Testimony: Sinclair offered to plead guilty in sexual misconduct case; but Army declined
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Fort Bragg Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair offered last summer to plead guilty in his sexual misconduct case, but the Army said no deal.
The plea offer surfaced during testimony Tuesday in a pretrial hearing for Sinclair's pending court-martial, which is scheduled to start in July.
Three generals, including the general in charge of all Army forces in the continental United States, testified Tuesday about their actions during the investigation and the decisions to prosecute Sinclair.
Two appeared to lose patience with Sinclair's lawyers because their questions often were repetitive as they sought to dig into the generals' thought processes.
Sinclair stayed focused, intense and rocked in his chair as he kept his eyes on witnesses during testimony.
The testimony came on the same day that the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee questioned top military leaders about reports that the armed forces have failed to stem a culture that tolerates sexual assault among its ranks.
Sinclair has acknowledged a three-year extra-marital affair with a female captain, which is illegal under military law.
He is charged with adultery and numerous other allegations, including inappropriate conduct with several other women and of forcing the female captain twice to perform oral sex.
A conviction could put Sinclair in prison.
On Tuesday, Sinclair's lawyers tried to persuade the judge that the assault charges should be thrown out and reinvestigated, that the Army and military leadership exerted illegal pressure to prosecute Sinclair and that Sinclair is being charged more harshly than usual because the military wants to use him to prove that it is cracking down on sexual misconduct.
Sinclair offered to plead guilty before the Army levied charges against him in September, according to testimony by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt, who is the acting commander of Fort Bragg.
"I denied the request," Colt said, because it was premature at that time to accept a plea. At that point, the government was still considering what charges Sinclair should face, Colt said.
Charges were served on Sinclair on Sept. 24. An Article 32 hearing — the military's equivalent of civilian court's probable cause hearing or grand jury proceeding — was held in November. Evidence and testimony presented at the Article 32 hearing persuaded Gen. Dan B. Allyn to order a court-martial.
Allyn last year was the Fort Bragg commander and now is in charge of Forces Command.
The Article 32 hearing should be thrown out and done over, argued Sinclair lawyer Ellen Brotman.
She said prosecutors were required by case law to share emails with Sinclair's lawyers that support their theory that the captain, when she admitted in March 2012 her adulterous affair with Sinclair to his supervisor, did not at first accuse Sinclair of assaulting her.
They think the captain first accused Sinclair of assault nine days later in an effort to portray herself as a victim and protect herself from prosecution for adultery.
Sinclair's defense lawyers could have used the emails, which don't mention assault, to attack the credibility of testimony during the Article 32 hearing, Brotman said.
The emails were written by Sinclair's supervisor, Lt. Gen. James Huggins, who initiated the investigation, to other people who needed to be told there was a complaint.
Huggins testified Tuesday that the captain complained of the alleged assaults when she first told him of the affair, but that he purposely made no mention of assault until she made her formal complaint.
This silence was to protect the integrity of the criminal investigation, Huggins said, "to keep this thing pristine" and let the facts surface as it progressed.
Lawyer Richard Scheff questioned Colt and Allyn about the timing of a press announcement in September that Sinclair had been charged. The announcement was postponed from Sept. 25 to Sept. 26, according to records and testimony.
On Sept. 25 the military announced a new effort to train personnel how to prevent and respond to sexual assaults. Colt and Allyn denied any connection to that announcement with the timing of the charges against Sinclair.
They said there was no influence from the military hierarchy on their decisions that led to Sinclair's court-martial. Both have been promoted in the past year, and they said their pending promotions did not influence their decisions in the case.
Regardless of the effect on his then-pending promotion to four-star general, Allyn said, "If it was the right thing to do, that's what I would have done."