Wife stands by Bragg general, asks for 'fair sentence'
Posted March 18, 2014
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Lawyers for a Fort Bragg general who admitted to emotionally harming a subordinate during a three-year affair were expected to begin arguing Tuesday afternoon that he shouldn't face jail time for a crime for which civilians wouldn't be prosecuted.
Prosecutors finished presenting their case Tuesday morning against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, 51, who pleaded guilty Monday to a variety of offenses in exchange for the government dropping sexual assault charges against him.
The female captain who accused Sinclair of twice forcing her to perform oral sex testified Monday that she can't trust anyone and fears her superiors are always going to take advantage of her. She said as their relationship soured, she fell into despair so deep that she threatened to kill herself so the general would listen to her.
A lawyer who advised the accuser issued a statement Monday saying she stood by the assault accusation.
The woman's mother testified that her daughter has been depressed for more than two years and now sleeps with a gun under her pillow and a Doberman by her side.
On Tuesday, prosecutors hammered away at Sinclair's use of a government credit card while visiting his mistress. The general's plea agreement acknowledged his misuse of the card.
The defense is seeking a lenient sentence for Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and lawyers began a parade of up to 20 witnesses, including men and women with whom the general worked during his 27-year military career. Many described him as an inspirational leader with whom they would return to combat.
"He's been a leader in many deployments, and that's why we have 20 witnesses," defense attorney Lathrop Nelson said outside of the Fort Bragg courthouse Tuesday morning. "They're going to come in and tell the story from when he was a cadet till now, and they're going to tell the story of his history, his leadership and his strong service to the country."
One witness not in court is Rebecca Sinclair, the general's wife, who wrote a two-page letter to Col. James Pohl, the military judge overseeing the case, that the defense hopes to read into the record on Wednesday.
"I am on the road to forgiveness, though not fully there. It has been a long road, with many steps forward and backwards," she wrote.
Rebecca Sinclair said her husband has been humbled by the criminal charges and is wracked with guilt and remorse over the impact to his family. She complains about the relatively easy treatment the female captain has received in the case, repeatedly referring to her as "that party."
She closed the letter by saying that she and her two sons are the only innocent victims to her husband's offenses, and she said they shouldn't be punished any more than they have by dealing with the fallout of his case over the last two years.
"A fair sentence is also one that takes into account Jeff Sinclair as a whole person, recognizing his achievements and his sacrifices as well as his errors," she wrote.
Prosecutors objected to entering the letter into evidence, saying it doesn't allow them to cross-examine Rebecca Sinclair. Lead defense attorney Richard Scheff called the letter "compelling" and said it's important that Pohl hears it because "it really shows the true Jeff Sinclair."
"I heard the word 'objection' and just couldn't believe what I heard," Sheff said. "It's astounding that that would be kept from the court and kept from the judge's consideration. It won't be. It'll be in the record."
Sinclair himself will give a statement during the sentencing hearing and may even testify, defense attorney Richard Scheff said.
The married general pleaded guilty earlier this month to having improper relationships with three subordinate officers, including the captain. He also pleaded guilty to adultery, which is a crime in the military.
The most serious accusations went to trial, but the court-martial was halted after the military judge found evidence that there may have been improper influence in a decision to reject a previous plea deal. The new deal was then struck, including Sinclair's admission that his treatment of the captain was "unwarranted, unjustified and unnecessary," broke military law and mentally harmed her.
Sinclair also admitted Monday to using indecent language to demean female officers and contacting the captain after being told not to.
Sinclair spoke in court Monday, showing emotion for the first time after being stoic during previous hearings.
"I failed her as a leader and as a mentor and caused harm to her emotional state," Sinclair said, his voice catching as he read from a statement. He asked the judge for a break and took a long drink of water before continuing to read.
"I created a situation over time that caused her emotional harm," Sinclair said, seated in his dress blue uniform.
Ultimately, the judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can't exceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and military attorneys over the weekend, but has not been made public. The legal agreement is likely to require a punishment far less severe than the maximum penalties of 21½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army.
Scheff suggested he might walk out of court a free man, but without a career and perhaps with hundreds of thousands of dollars less in pension benefits.
"I hope he is permitted to retire at a reduced rank and can go home to his family," he said.
The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether the captain had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Pohl said the military may have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a message about its determination to curb rape and other widespread misconduct. Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.
A different commander accepted a plea deal over the weekend.