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Sinclair's wife testifies in pre-trial hearing

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The wife of Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair testified in a pre-trial hearing Wednesday that she didn't feel she could stop soldiers who seized computers from the couple's Fort Bragg home.

Rebecca Sinclair said she did not know why the government-owned computers were being seized and didn't consider trying to stop it.

Her husband is accused of sexually assaulting an Army captain with whom he has acknowledged having an adulterous affair. The defense alleges the government seized the computers without a warrant or other proper authorization.

Rebecca Sinclair testified the rear detachment commander called her and said two soldiers would be coming to the house to take the computers. A defense lawyer asked her if she told them no.

"I guess I never thought that was an option," she said.

Col. Mark Murray testified he used "a ruse" to seize the computers because he did not want to send law enforcement to the Sinclair home and fuel speculation. Jeffrey Sinclair had not yet been charged at the time.

Murray said he told Rebecca Sinclair the computers needed to be updated. The major who was sent to pick up the computers testified by phone from Hawaii that his encounter with Rebecca Sinclair was cordial, and that if she had said refused to grant him access to the computers, that he would have left without them.

Jeffrey Sinclair's lawyers argue that the email on his government computers was seized in violation of the constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure. The defense team was previously successful in suppressing email seized from a personal account Sinclair had with Google's Gmail service.

According to testimony from Lt. Col. John Conniff, who was in charge of communications equipment and computers in that region of Afghanistan, the contents of the government computers are not private. All users are required to sign an agreement acknowledging that they have no privacy on them, he said.

When users log onto the computers, a banner appears that further warns them of the rules for their use and the lack of privacy, he said.

Sinclair acknowledged using the military computers for personal matters. "Some. We all do," he said.

It was common for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan to use military computers to contact family and friends back home because of the limited access to communication, Sinclair said.

But on cross-examination, Sinclair said he also had his own personal computers there, and he shared a commercial Internet connection with two other officers.

Defense lawyers continued to push their contention that Sinclair is being treated unfairly. They say the decision to prosecute him was influenced by ongoing complaints that the military has failed to properly address sexual misconduct among its personnel.

The captain complained to Sinclair's supervisor in March 2012, while she and Sinclair were stationed together in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Her complaint led to an investigation and numerous other charges against Sinclair, including inappropriate relationships with several other women, possession of pornography in the Afghan war zone in violation of orders and misuse of government travel money.

In an effort to find exculpatory evidence, the defense lawyers want his accuser's personal computer. They want to look at her emails, journal entries, correspondence with family and lawyers and her web searches.

The defense also wants to prohibit the government from using emails from two people - friends with whom Sinclair confided - on the premise that the emails were also in Sinclair's Gmail account that investigators illegally accessed.

Col. James Pohl, the judge, rejected several defense motions today. He denied a defense request for a new Article 32 hearing. The proceeding is the military equivalent of civilian court's probable cause hearing or grand jury proceeding. The defense had argued that the prosecution hadn't shared emails that support the defense theories of the case.

Pohl also rejected the defense's request for copies of emails on the subject of Sinclair from Lt. Gen. William B. Garrett III, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command; Brig. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, the Army's chief of public affairs; and Col. Paul Wilson, the staff judge-advocate at Fort Bragg.

The defense has contended that Sinclair, who is charged with sexual assault and other misconduct, is being treated unfairly. They say the decision to prosecute him was influenced by ongoing complaints that the military has failed to properly address sexual misconduct among its personnel.

In the opening of the pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, Sinclair testified in his own defense to try to keep emails from being used against him at his court-martial next month.

Sinclair, the former deputy commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, said he had an expectation of privacy in using government-issued computers in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors produced documents that warn the users of military computers that they should not expect their activities and communications to be private.

The hearing also dealt with the defense team's desire for emails and statements from high-ranking Army officials that the lawyers think will show there was unlawful command influence over the decision to prosecute Sinclair.

Other matters include an effort by the defense to access the accuser's computer and any information she shared with her lawyer.

Lawyers also argued over whether the defense can bring witnesses to testify that Sinclair is of good character while the accuser is not.

The judge has been listening to arguments but not ruling on them immediately. Rulings likely will come in the next weeks, as the July 16 trial date approaches.

woolvertonp@fayobserver.com
 

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