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General chokes up as he details affair during plea

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- An Army general who admitted to improper relationships with three subordinates appeared to choke up Monday as he told a judge that he'd failed the female captain who had leveled the most serious accusations against him.

Hours later, she took the stand to testify about how she can't trust people and fears her superiors are always going to take advantage of her in the aftermath of the three-year affair.

As he pleaded guilty, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's voice halted when telling the judge why he was pleading guilty to mistreating her in a deal that included the dropping of sexual assault charges.

"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. It was the first public show of regret or sadness for a 27-year veteran who had betrayed little emotion in court hearings over the past year.

The judge accepted Sinclair's guilty pleas on several lesser charges in a deal that includes the dropping of sexual assault counts and two others that may have required him to register as a sex offender.

The sentencing hearing for Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, began Monday afternoon and was expected to last until at least the next day. As many as two-dozen witnesses could be called and Sinclair's lawyer said he will either give a statement or testify.

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 21 1/2 years in prison and dismissal from the Army.

Sinclair's lawyer 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," defense attorney Richard Scheff said before court started Monday.

Sinclair, 51, had been accused of twice forcing the female captain under his command to perform oral sex during the three-year extramarital affair. The Associated Press does not generally identify those who say they were victims of sexual assault.

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 on Monday to abusing a government credit card he used while traveling to visit his mistress, using indecent language to demean female officers and contacting the accuser after being told not to.

After his plea, prosecutors opened the sentencing by calling the accuser back to the stand. She remains on active duty and was granted an immunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony.

She said her career has suffered because she constantly worries her supervisors are talking about her behind her back and trying to undermine her.

"I'm very guarded now. I have a hard time trusting people. I have a very hard time feeling safe," said the woman, who cried during testimony and occasionally dabbed her eyes with a tissue between questions.

She never looked at Sinclair, but looked directly at prosecutors as she was questioned. When the lawyers would talk directly to the judge between questions, she looked down at her hands.

The female officer's mother testified that since making the accusations, her daughter bought a 95-pound dog for protection and sleeps on her couch in her four-bedroom home with a loaded gun nearby because she is scared.

In court on Monday, Sinclair denied ever putting his hands on the captain in anger. He said about a year into the affair, he began to realize that the captain wanted a complete relationship, while he was not going to leave his wife. Sinclair said the captain was "emotionally invested in a way I was not."

The general said he started using tactics to try to keep the captain from revealing a relationship that broke military law both because Sinclair was married and a superior officer.

He lied and said he planned to divorce his wife to keep the captain hoping for something more. And he started flirting with other women in hopes that the captain would leave quietly, he said.

Sinclair said his actions were "not based on my honest feelings for her, but were based on my fear of exposure."

Prosecutors have not spoken outside court since the plea deal was disclosed over the weekend.

The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether his primary accuser had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Judge Col. James 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.

Capt. Cassie L. Fowler, the military lawyer assigned to represent the accuser's interests, declined to talk about the case outside court Monday. She referred questions to another attorney who advised the woman, retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett.

A statement issued by Barnett said that the woman stands by her assault accusation.

Barnett said that Sinclair "literally sabotaged her career by altering her orders to keep her under his command and refusing her many requests to be transferred. She was literally trapped and bullied by one of the highest ranking officers in the United States Army."

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SAM March 18 2014 at 10:52 AM

You can rest assure if it were a low ranking enlistee or non commissioned officer who came before him .... he would have hung them out to dry. I think as a general he's supposed to set the standards of the US military. He needs to be booted out of the service as he of all people should know better.

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1 reply
brooklynbanshee SAM March 18 2014 at 11:09 AM

Agree, stripped of rank and benefits, lose everything is apporpriate

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herrshultz March 17 2014 at 7:31 PM

The only time most of these individuals cry foul is when using the situation for self gain no longer works. I know of a few cases where officer/enlisted fratinization and NCO/junior enlisted caused undo harm to other careers. This sort of crap has been going on in all services for centuries and the only time you ever hear it blown up like this is when there is political gain of some sort or as said before the looser in the situation is seeking revenge. Didn't bother either of them when it was fun and they were getting what they wanted, and there is most likely a few folks didn't get promoted because they didn't have his or her attention. Most server honorably, but as in the real world if you can't get ahead because of your intelligence and hard work afew use the oldest comodity in the book. She was part of all the good stuff for her didn't bother her then whats going to happen to her?????? She and the others should fry also they are no better than him for even getting involved. But we'll never see true justice will we?

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Laird Wilcox March 18 2014 at 1:38 AM

The military is one of the few places in American society where adultery is still a crime. Many states have taken if off of their statute books and none of them still prosecute it. This gives the military enormous leverage to prosecute people -- primarily men -- who simply succumb to a human weakness with a willing partner. In this case the "victim" was given a choice of testifying against the defendant or facing charges herself. She may not have wanted to. It was "you destroy his life or we'll destroy yours."

Much of the pressure to pursue cases like this comes from politicians and feminist interest groups. It's a tough thing when one party to a romance gets disappointed but to take that and use it to destroy military careers, their families and even the military itself with the loss of their training and ability is a terrible idea. If there are actual serious damages they could be pursued in a civil court.

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2 replies
Melrensckit Laird Wilcox March 18 2014 at 2:38 AM

Do those "who simply succumb to a human weakness with a willing partner" even belong in the military??? These people are supposed to be incredibly disciplined and yet they can't say no?

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pruettee Laird Wilcox March 18 2014 at 2:48 AM

Thank you Laird Wilcox. The only good comment I have read. Just remember it is a two way street. Women and men pressure others.

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Carol March 17 2014 at 7:32 PM

Remorse after being caught? His tears are for himself, unfortunately not for the woman he injured. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and I hope he falls very hard because he's injured a woman who cared for him while he played a heartless game of control. What DOES an "officer and a gentleman" mean these days?

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anders443 March 18 2014 at 10:25 AM

very bad thing it is and not just for the the ones he hurt but for all who respected the position of a Gen.

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Atlantic Marine March 17 2014 at 7:37 PM

He abused his position of power. Reduce his rank to Pvt E1 and his pension accordingly. This a bad guy and will probably continue his ways.

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IBruzEZ March 18 2014 at 8:10 AM

"Just go home to his family".... ha.!! Not if I was his wife.! If he thought this trial was rough, he ain't seen nothin yet.!!

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1 reply
devldog431 IBruzEZ March 18 2014 at 8:49 AM

and you havn't seen a General's paycheck!

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redband March 18 2014 at 10:15 AM

I remember a case like this one when I was in the Air Force back in the 50's. A major did the same thing with a in listed female airman. Before we knew it he was transferred never to be heard of again. Things have changed since those days. When a Air Man got one of the local girl pregnant he was just shipped out to parts unknown. I wonder what happened to those days? Are things any better today? Or does Rank have it's privilege?

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Chris March 18 2014 at 10:15 AM

And he gets away with it. He should not be given a lesser sentence because he is a general. As a commanding officer he is supposed to lead by his actions. He did not lead, he demanded action. I think he should register as a sex offender. The law shows us that if you have power and money, you can get away with anything. He has done this before you can be sure of that. He just didn't get caught. No reduced sentencing should be allowed.

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1 reply
moose Chris March 18 2014 at 10:26 AM

And he should be stripped of all military rank, salary and retirement benefits. A Precidence needs to be set sending a loud and clear message this will not be tolerated on any level.

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auctionsurplus March 18 2014 at 8:11 AM

She is also military. She also engaged in an affair for 3 years. Why is this not against military rules for her as well?

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3 replies
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