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Sinclair defers plea in arraignment; court-martial set for May

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, 82nd Airborne Division and Regional Command (South) deputy commanding general of support, speaks with an Afghan leader during the Combined Team Zabul Winter Operations Back Brief for American and Afghan key leaders at Forward Operating Base Eagle, Nov. 16, 2011.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A Fort Bragg general charged with having an illicit affair and engaging in wrongful sexual conduct deferred entering a plea in his first appearance at a Fort Bragg courthouse.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was in court for more than five hours Tuesday, the first pretrial hearing in the case against him.

Sinclair faces 25 specifications of eight charges, including forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, indecent acts, attempting to violate a lawful order, maltreatment, conduct unbecoming an officer, adultery and communicating threats.

The charges stem from allegations of inappropriate relationships with several women who were under Sinclair's command before or at the time of the alleged crimes.

One of those women has accused Sinclair of forcing her to perform a sex act.

Sinclair has admitted to an affair but maintained that the relationship with an Army captain who served as one of his aides was consensual. He faces prison if convicted.

On Tuesday, Sinclair heard the formal reading of the charges against him, and his lawyers filed two motions in the case.

One motion sought to disqualify prosecutors who were "tainted" by having come into contact with privileged email communications between Sinclair and his lawyers.

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The second motion sought to depose family members of the prosecution's chief witness, the woman who had a longtime affair with Sinclair and accused him of the forced sex act.

Col. James L. Pohl, the military judge, denied the motion to depose the victim's family.

Lt. Col. Jackie Thompson, one of Sinclair's defense lawyers, sought to have three of the four prosecutors disqualified from the case because of the emails they had obtained. Thompson asked Pohl to order that the investigation of Sinclair be redone. The judge said he would rule on that motion soon.

The emails, which by law are protected from being used against Sinclair, were found in a private Google email account that was turned over to investigators by court order.

Prosecutors testified, however, that they did not read any privileged communication, though they admitted that such correspondence inadvertently was included in their files.

Capt. Curtis Smith, one of the prosecutors, said he did not find the material until days before a November hearing that helped decide whether Sinclair would stand trial.

When he realized what the emails were, he testified, he closed the file immediately.

Thompson argued that the potential that prosecutors could have accessed such material, inadvertently or not, makes them unfit to be involved in the case.

Prosecutors countered the argument, claiming no harm was done.

"There is no evidence that something we haven't seen can be used against them at trial," said a prosecutor, Lt. Col. William Helixon.

Sinclair appeared in court wearing his blue Army dress uniform. He has launched a website in his defense called sinclairinnocence.com, which compares Sinclair to the Duke University lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape in 2006.

The website includes transcripts of evidence Sinclair's lawyers could present at trial, including journal entries of his accuser, text messages between him and the woman, polygraph results and a partial transcript of the weeklong hearing held last fall.

Sinclair was deputy commanding general for support of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division. He was sent home from Afghanistan in the spring after allegations of wrongdoing surfaced.

is a special assistant to the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn.

Pohl set the dates for the next hearings in the case for March 26-28. The court-martial is scheduled for May 13-24.

Sinclair declined to make a decision on the type of court-martial he could face in May. He could face a jury of officers with higher ranks than him, or he could be tried by a judge alone.

The list of potential witnesses includes Allyn; Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who is the Army chief of staff; Maj. Gen. James L. Huggins, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division; Gen. Lloyd Austin, a former Fort Bragg commander who is now the Army's vice chief of staff; and Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, a former 82nd commander who is now director of Joint Staff at the Department of Defense.

brooksd@fayobserver.com
 

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