U.S. Army General Jeffrey Sinclair, who's been accused of sexually assaulting a female captain during the course of their three-year affair, pleaded guilty to three lesser charges today but maintains he did not commit assault. Sinclair is believed to be the highest ranking military member to ever be tried for sexual assault, and his court-martial will be unique in that the jury will be made up of five major generals. (Military rules require the jury to be of superior rank to the defendant. Sinclair is a one-star general.) Sinclair, a married father of two, pleaded guilty to the military crimes of adultery and having improper relationships, possessing pornography while on duty in Afghanistan, and conduct unbecoming of a gentleman.
Sinclair's lawyers believe that pleading guilty to these lesser counts will strengthen his position going into his trial. But he still faces five charges, including sexual assault. His primary female accuser claims Sinclair forced her to perform oral sex on him twice during the course of their affair, and that he threatened to kill her family if she told anyone about their relationship. He also admitted to having improper relationships with two other female officers (he asked them for nude photos). Sinclair's primary accuser is the one claiming he assaulted her. By admitting to the affair, Sinclair can say goodbye to his military career.
Sinclair's lawyer, Richard Scheff, alleges that Sinclair's primary accuser is lying. He tells the Associated Press:
The government now has a big problem. It took pathetically weak assault charges and put a fancy wrapper around them. We just tore the wrapper off. The prosecution team no longer gets to distract us with salacious details about acts that aren't even criminal in the civilian world. All they're left with is a crime that never happened, a witness who committed perjury, and a pile of text messages and journal entries that disprove their claim.
The court martial began today with opening statements in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, in D.C., the Senate will vote today on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act. Her measure would take sexual assault cases like Sinclair's outside the chain of military command (ensuring that defendants like Sinclair won't have a jury made up of major generals). She currently has 55 public supporters in the Senate, but she'll need five more to defeat a likely filibuster.