Fort Bragg general's defense team works to discredit accuser
Posted November 8, 2012 6:46 p.m. EST
Updated November 8, 2012 11:31 p.m. EST
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Military attorneys painted contrasting pictures Thursday of a Fort Bragg general facing sexual misconduct charges and his primary accuser.
During closing arguments at an evidentiary hearing that will determine whether the case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair goes to court martial, his defense attorneys portrayed the alleged victim as a liar prone to jealousy and emotional overreactions. Prosecutors, however, called Sinclair a fraud and a disgrace to the military.
The female captain at the heart of the government's case admits she carried on a 3-year sexual relationship with her married commander. Adultery is a crime under military law and the admission could end her career.
But she also testified earlier this week that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair with Sinclair, who she says threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.
The woman admitted she typically wanted to have sex with the general, though on two occasions in Afghanistan she says he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex, even as she sobbed.
In her closing argument, defense lawyer Maj. Elizabeth Ramsey said the accuser was a scorned lover trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot.
"Her lies are her fury," Ramsey said. "And these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell."
Prosecutors presented a different version of the general's character.
"Gen. Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires," said Lt. Col. William Helixon, the lead prosecutor. "Gen. Sinclair had the audacity to ask subordinates for naked pictures."
Sinclair, a 27-year Army veteran who served five combat tours, faces 26 counts of sex-related charges, including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual contact and adultery.
The allegations involve Sinclair's conduct with five women who are not his wife, though the female captain is the only one who says he used physical force. Two female officers who had served with Sinclair testified Wednesday that had given the general nude photos at his request.
Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan before being abruptly relieved in May during the criminal probe. He has been on special assignment since then at Fort Bragg, the sprawling Army post in eastern North Carolina.
Under the military justice system, a superior officer to the accused — in this case Maj. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins — is assigned to review the evidence at an Article 32 hearing. Wiggins will then recommend to a still-higher-ranking officer — 18th Airborne Corps commander Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn — whether the charges should proceed to a full court-martial. It could be weeks before a decision is made. If Allyn sends the case to trial, Sinclair faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious criminal charges.
Ramsey, the defense layer, suggested in her closing argument that the general was guilty only of adultery and fraternization, punishable by a written reprimand. She said Sinclair had passed a polygraph test during which he denied ever forcing the captain to have oral sex with him.
She said Sinclair had suffered for months through the unjust public humiliation of his family by media reports and that allowing the charges to go forward would cause "actual sexual assault victims to suffer."
Without any witnesses to the alleged assault or physical evidence, it has been the primary mission of the three military lawyers assigned to defend Sinclair to destroy the female captain's credibility. They characterized her as a "crazy" and manipulative "back-stabber" who blamed others for her mistakes.
"She wanted to take everything from him — his wife, his family, his career," Ramsey said. "She is adding lies in a desperate attempt to get someone to believe that Gen. Sinclair forced her to be with him."
As the hearing entered its fourth day Thursday, the defense called to the witness stand Chief Warrant Officer Jose Serbia. He was a coworker and workout buddy of the female captain's. He said she first tearfully confided in him about the affair on March 19, the day she found messages from another woman in the general's military e-mail account, which she checked as part of her job.
Serbia testified the woman told him how Sinclair had threatened to kill her. But when Serbia asked the captain if Sinclair had raped her, he said she replied that he had not. It wasn't until she later made a formal complaint that she alleged Sinclair forced her to perform oral sex.
After making her report to Sinclair's superior, the woman's security clearance was suspended and she was relieved of her duties. She was also referred for a mental health assessment.
The defense also added to a series of male officers who praised Sinclair while describing the female captain as a liar and loose cannon.
Capt. Joseph D'Elia, who served as Sinclair's executive officer in Afghanistan, described the accuser as "volatile" and her moods as erratic. However, he later agreed with lead prosecutor Helixon that the secret affair with the general might explain her emotional swings.
First Lt. Michael Piccini, an aide to Sinclair, described the accuser as "not truthful" while characterizing Sinclair as a "great leader" and mentor whom he had never seen act inappropriately.
Helixon pounced, asking the young lieutenant if a "great leader" carried on a 3-year extramarital affair with a direct subordinate or asked other female officers to provide him with nude photos of themselves.
"No," Piccini agreed.