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Army sex trial begins with jury of generals seated

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - A jury of five two-star generals was seated Wednesday for the court-martial of an Army general believed to be the highest ranking officer to face sexual assault charges.

But the closely watched trial will unfold with lingering questions about the accuser's credibility and without the prosecutor who led the case for nearly two years.

The prosecutor, Lt. Col. William Helixon, had urged that the most serious charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair be dropped because they rely solely on the woman's accusation that he twice forced her to perform oral sex and he believes she lied under oath about crucial evidence in the case.

But those above the seasoned sex crimes prosecutor overrode him, rebuffing an offer from Sinclair to plead guilty to lesser charges.

It is extremely rare for such a high-ranking military officer to face a jury. Under the military justice system, members of the panel must be senior in rank to the accused - dictating Sinclair's jury of major generals.

Opening statements in the case are set for Thursday.

Helixon was replaced last month after he broke down in tears over the case and a superior officer took him to a military hospital for a mental health evaluation, according to testimony.

Sinclair's defense lawyers allege the top brass moved forward because they were worried about the political fallout that would result if the charges were dropped.

Following a daylong hearing Tuesday, a judge ruled the case should go to trial.

"No offense to Lt. Col. Helixon, but I don't care what he thinks and neither should the court," Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, who replaced Helixon as lead prosecutor, told the judge.

Sinclair's lawyer suggested that the Army was sacrificing Helixon's career and reputation to pursue a flawed case.

"The government undertook a vicious character assault against someone they previously called their 'rock star' sex crimes prosecutor, because he was the only Army leader with the integrity to stand up to politics," said Richard Scheff, the lead defense lawyer. "People should be rewarded for honesty, not punished for it."

The case against Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial for sexual assault, comes as the Pentagon grapples with a troubling string of revelations involving rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks. Influential members of Congress are also pushing to remove decisions about the prosecution of sex crimes from the military chain of command.

Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne, has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. He faces life in prison if convicted of the sexual assault charges.

Lawyers for the married father of two have say he carried on a three-year extramarital affair with a female captain under his command during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The admission of an affair will almost certainly end his Army career.

In pretrial hearings, prosecutors have painted Sinclair as a sexual predator who abused his position and threatened to kill the accuser and her family if she told anyone of their relationship.

The Associated Press does not publicly identify the alleged victims of sexual assaults.

Helixon, who was described as dealing with "personal issues," wasn't called to testify Tuesday.

But among those called to the stand was Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson, a high-ranking military lawyer stationed at the Pentagon.

Wilson said another general sent him on the morning of Feb. 8 to check on Helixon, who was then staying in a room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington. He said he arrived to find Helixon appearing drunk and suicidal.

"He was in the midst of a personal crisis. He was crying. He was illogical," Wilson testified. "I truly believed if he could have stepped in front of a bus at the time, I think he would have."

The lead prosecutor had become convinced the accuser lied under oath when she testified in January about evidence collected from a cellphone.

The captain testified that on Dec. 9, shortly after what she described as a contentious meeting with prosecutors, she rediscovered an old iPhone stored in a box at her home that still contained saved text messages and voicemails from the general. After charging the phone, she testified she synced it with her computer to save photos before contacting her attorney.

However, a defense expert's examination suggested the captain powered up the device more than two weeks before the meeting with prosecutors. She also tried to make a call and performed a number of other operations.

Three additional experts verified those findings.

Wilson testified that Helixon was so distraught that the accuser had lied to him he took the prosecutor to the emergency room of a nearby military hospital at Fort Belvfor a mental health evaluation.

Though a psychiatrist who interviewed the prosecutor declined to admit him for treatment, Wilson said he told Helixon's immediate superior back at Fort Bragg that the prosecutor was no longer fit to handle the case.

"He was not fit for any kind of duty. I would not have trusted him to drive a car," Wilson said.

In an unusual move, the defense called Sinclair's lead lawyer to the stand. Scheff testified that Helixon had confided in him that he was concerned the case had become too politicized.

"He said everyone on his team had reasonable doubt," Scheff said. "He said, 'I'm going to be the guy who gets hurt in this. I'm going to have a problem.'"

The defense introduced a December letter the military lawyer assigned to represent the accuser sent to Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the commander at Fort Bragg. Under military law, it was up to Anderson to decide whether or not to accept Sinclair's plea offer.

Writing on behalf of the accuser, Capt. Cassie L. Fowler urged Anderson to reject the deal, suggesting that to do otherwise 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.

Join the discussion

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Fish on March 05 2014 at 7:34 PM

Staying at the Ritz--just amazing.

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abdullahmikail March 05 2014 at 5:27 PM

I am kind of miffed about the allegation. I understand how a physical occurrence can be forced upon someone, but there is a substantial voluntary active effort included in what the "victim" claims she was "forced to do" .... twice.

What???? Whatever...

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2 replies
bllstant abdullahmikail March 05 2014 at 5:36 PM

its seems to me the lady captain lied and they should let the general retire

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1 reply
Justice is Rare bllstant March 05 2014 at 5:58 PM

It looks to me in my opinion, that she is scorned and out to destroy him.

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Justice is Rare abdullahmikail March 05 2014 at 5:53 PM

3 times, not twice, and she never said a word about it till now???????????????. That speakis mounds to me, as if this in fact did happen, than why wait to report it, there must have been someone at the time she could have told about it.

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dddks1 March 05 2014 at 5:25 PM

What should be investigated is the fact that the Army is having their men stay at the Ritz Carlton.....anyone want to guess the cost of that hotel, in Washington D.C., per night ? Well if you guessed it was more than what Mrs. Obama spent on her hotel in Africa you are wrong but not by much !

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fabcorn March 05 2014 at 5:22 PM

no sympaty for this guy if found guilty bust him like any enlisted personel would be. stop blaming the victim for a sexual assualt blame the offender.

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2 replies
abdullahmikail fabcorn March 05 2014 at 5:29 PM

I don't know the specifics of the case...it seems suspicious to me that someone would be "forced" to do a an act that takes very much self motivation and effort..... twice.


Would like to see the courts martial transcript...

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1 reply
rob300l abdullahmikail March 05 2014 at 5:44 PM

I tend to agree with you. That said, there is such a thing called coercion, in which a threat of "you do this or I'll make sure you suffer" was made. Because he was up her chain of command, he could very well have seen to it that she got horrible (or significantly more dangerous) assignments. On the other hand, she might have been "servicing" the General in hopes of getting special favors. But I'm with you, on the surface, the allegations of rape/assault seem specious.

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fullmetljacket fabcorn March 05 2014 at 5:40 PM

No sympathy for her either, if being a liar.

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Pete Attorney March 05 2014 at 10:46 PM

Regardless of the outcome of his court martial trial, this general's career is over either way.

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1 reply
mestranger2all Pete Attorney March 05 2014 at 11:04 PM

good it should be

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Dr. Cal Harris March 05 2014 at 11:13 PM

Our culture has been in a panic about anything to do with sex since the end of the 19th century.

If a person is accused of anything with the word "sex" in it, people like many that posted below will already find them guilty.

These cases always have a back-story. I don't know whether he is guilty of anything other than having extremely poor judgement for getting involved with the accused; I don't know whether he held a gun on the woman and demanded ********............. no one knows the facts but he and the person accusing.

This man, even if found innocent will be marked for life. If he is guilty as charged, he should face a firing squad.

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1 reply
brandonjg Dr. Cal Harris March 06 2014 at 12:20 AM

A firing squad? You are a fraud and an intellectual idiot.

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Bob March 05 2014 at 5:19 PM

The only evidence the Prosecutor has is "...the woman's accusation that he twice forced her to perform ******** and he believes she lied under oath about crucial evidence in the case." There's no forensic evidence, not even a "little blue dress"? Nothing to corroborate he testimony, even the original Prosecutor doesn't believe her.

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mission1st March 05 2014 at 11:24 PM

SInclair is facing a stacked deck against him. This will be the Army's chance to prove to the world that they wont put up with any assault, not matter if he is guilty or not. The only chance he has is if the defense can crush the accuser in such a way as to leave the jury no choice but to aquit.

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1 reply
NoShark mission1st March 06 2014 at 1:48 AM

The doubts of the former prosecutor, publicly displayed, and now martyred as a political objector to the proceedings who defied a corrupt system, as well as the substantiated contradictions in the accuser's timeline of evidence, make it more difficult for the military to throw him down as an object lesson. This can only work to the benefit of the general, guilty or not.

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elendil3136 March 05 2014 at 5:00 PM

It's a new day not only for the Army, but for the US military as a whole. This trial may well prove to be a watershed moment. With Congress threatening to force change in the way the military handles sexual assault cases, there will naturally be the temptation to throw Sinclair to the wolves to placate the female members of Congress leading the charge to rewrite the rules; a rewrite that the military brass opposes.

Still, it's hard to see a jury of generals convicting him on the most serious charges, though he will almost certainly be convicted of the minor ones. However, a failure to convict on the most serious charge will definitely enrage women's rights groups, and set the stage for a major battle in Congress over military handling of sexual assault cases.

Stay tuned people. This might be fun.

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smfstiffy March 06 2014 at 12:56 AM

Ahh yes , to be a fly on the wall. I wonder if he failed the "will you fire on the american people"
questionaire? Here is a complete list of the 197 (as of 2 month ago) Militatary Commanders
fired since Our current POTUS was elected. Notice the very high rank of all men . Also notice that
somebody much youger and inexperienced will have to take their place. Much like the ADMINS
staff. Just a thought. Feel free to click on all of the links @ the bottom . Yes I know Its NOT the kinda of thing
that you see on your local news or this Venue. This is REALLY what is going on.

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