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CNN —  

Retired Army Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene on Wednesday admitted to sexually abusing his then-teenage daughter in the 1980s, in exchange for a suspension of his sentence.

His daughter, Jennifer Elmore, turned 49 on Wednesday.

Grazioplene pleaded guilty in a Prince William County, Virginia, circuit court to aggravated sexual battery. He has been in jail for approximately 18 months. He was expected to be released on Wednesday and will serve 20 years of probation, according to Elmore’s lawyer, Ryan Guilds.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that Jennifer cares more about the truth than the punishment,” Guilds said in a text to CNN.

It’s the culmination of a five-year legal saga, during which Grazioplene repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. Grazioplene’s lawyer declined to comment to CNN on Wednesday.

Elmore first reported to Army officials in 2015 that her father had repeatedly molested and raped her throughout her childhood. The military launched an investigation and found enough evidence – even 30 years later – to move toward a trial in 2017. Two weeks before the trial was set to begin, as Elmore sat in a courtroom preparing with prosecutors to testify, the top military appeals court defied three decades of precedent and found a five-year statute of limitations existed for sexual assault in the military – if the assault occurred before 2006. The US Supreme Court has accepted a Justice Department appeal to review that decision.

Elmore’s case was subsequently dismissed from the military court.

Elmore then pushed for the case to proceed in the commonwealth of Virginia, where there is no statute of limitations for a felony offense.

Limited in scope to crimes that occurred within Virginia, a grand jury in Prince William County indicted Grazioplene on three specifications each of rape, incest and indecent liberties following a four-month investigation.

Grazioplene pleaded guilty to one charge of aggravated sexual battery.

Those in the courtroom Wednesday were socially distanced due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Grazioplene and Elmore were both present. Also in attendance were Ann Marie Grazioplene, Elmore’s mother and the retired major general’s wife, and three of Elmore’s five children.

Those in the room wore masks, but Elmore was permitted to lower hers as she responded to questions from the prosecutor.

“At 3, he led me to the dark, dirty basement of my grandmother’s house and put me on the washing machine and pleasured himself while molesting me,” Elmore said, according to a copy of her victim impact statement provided by Guilds.

“At 8, he bought me a piano and insisted on taking me to piano lessons, all so he could park and take whatever sick pleasures that he so desired. The same horrors occurring as he regularly insisted on bathing me. It took me until college to be able to use a bar of soap,” she added.

“He stripped me of my dignity, my innocence, my value, my childhood and my voice. All of the things that a father is supposed to protect at the expense of his own life. I will spend a lifetime putting back the shattered pieces you left behind.”

Elmore said her father looked down at his hands as she took the stand, not once meeting her eyes.

“Today was a win,” Elmore told CNN. “But I’m extraordinarily sad. The way I feel right now is like an orphan.”

Among the evidence collected by the Army were letters written by Elmore’s mother throughout the 1980s, which detailed abuse. CNN obtained copies of those letters.

“All the while I was playing housewife,” Ann Marie Grazioplene wrote to a family member in 1986, “he was taking perverted liberties with my child.”

In another letter, she wrote, “Jim has … made an attempt at sexually molesting Jennifer. She was sleeping, thank God, and I caught him before he got started.”

The Grazioplenes are still married today.

In the courtroom Wednesday, after the guilty plea was accepted, Elmore said her mother stepped into the aisle and told her, “Jennifer, happy birthday. I love you.”