Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - In this March 4, 2014, file photo, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, right, leaves the courthouse with his lawyers Richard Scheff, left, and Ellen C. Brotman, not pictured, following a day of motions at Fort Bragg, N.C. A military judge declined Monday, March 10, 2014, to dismiss sexual assault charges against Sinclair after reviewing what he said was evidence that political considerations influenced the military's handling of the case. (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, James Robinson, File)
Lawyers for general charged with sex assault want new plea bargain
First Published Mar 11 2014 07:33 am • Last Updated Mar 11 2014 07:33 am

Fort Bragg, N.C. • Attorneys for an Army general charged with sexual assault said Tuesday that they have decided to try to renegotiate a plea bargain with a new set of military officials after the judge determined that the case may have been improperly influenced by political concerns.

Judge Col. James Pohl sent the jury of generals back to their duty stations around the world after the defense’s decision.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Pohl had declined to dismiss the charges outright on Monday. But he reviewed newly disclosed emails in Sinclair’s case and said he found the appearance of "unlawful command influence" in Fort Bragg officials’ decision to reject a plea bargain with the general in January.

The twist came with the Pentagon under heavy pressure from Congress and beyond to combat rape and other sex crimes in the military. On Monday, the Senate approved legislation cracking down on misconduct.

Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.

But Pohl said the emails showed that the military officials who rejected the plea bargain had discussed a letter from the accuser’s lawyer. The letter warned that allowing the general to avoid trial would "send the wrong signal."

Sinclair, the 51-year-old former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex on him in Afghanistan in 2011 during a three-year extramarital affair. He has admitted to the affair but denied assaulting the woman.

He is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges. He could get life in prison if convicted.

The defense has portrayed the woman as a liar who concocted the allegations after she saw emails between Sinclair and another woman.

Scheff said the new developments vindicated what the defense has been claiming for months — that the Army pressed ahead with a weak case for fear of the political blowback that would result from dropping charges against such a high-profile defendant.


story continues below
story continues below

Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, the lead prosecutor, declined to comment after Monday’s hearing.

In December, Sinclair had offered to plead guilty to some of the lesser charges in exchange for the Army dropping the sexual assault charges, but he was turned down.

Sinclair’s plea offer was discussed in emails among a high-ranking Washington-based Army lawyer, the prosecutors and the commanding general overseeing the case.

The judge said he doesn’t think the whole case was tainted, just the decision on a plea agreement. The judge also criticized prosecutors for not giving defense lawyers the emails sooner: "The only reason we are in this conundrum is because of the government’s late notice."

Last week, Sinclair pleaded guilty to three lesser charges involving adultery with the captain and improper relationships with two other female Army officers. Those charges could bring 15 years in prison. A trial then began on the remaining sexual assault charges.

Now, the defense could ask to withdraw Sinclair’s guilty plea.

In December, Sinclair’s accuser came out against a plea bargain on the sexual assault charges in a letter sent by her attorney, Capt. Cassie L. Fowler. Fowler suggested that the proposal deal would "have an adverse effect on my client and the Army’s fight against sexual assault."

"Acceptance of this plea would send the wrong signal to those senior commanders who would prey on their subordinates by using their rank and position, thereby ensuring there will be other victims like my client in the future," Fowler wrote.

Though prosecutors deny any consideration was given to Fowler’s comments about the potential fallout, the emails turned over to the defense Saturday show they did discuss her assertions. One top military lawyer at Fort Bragg quoted her letter and said he found Fowler "very preachy."

It was Lt. Gen. James Anderson, as commander of Fort Bragg, who made the final decision on whether to accept Sinclair’s plea offer.

Testifying from Afghanistan by telephone, Anderson said Monday that he didn’t thoroughly read Fowler’s letter. The only thing he weighed in rejecting the deal was that the accuser wanted her day in court, he said.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.