Sinclair court-martial to resume Monday
By NATHAN HARDIN AND PAUL WOOLVERTON | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: March 16, 2014
The sexual assault court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeff Sinclair will resume Monday, nearly a week after the trial was postponed indefinitely because his lawyers had begun new plea-bargain negotiations.
The resumption of the trial was announced late Friday night in a Fort Bragg news release.
According to a source close to Sinclair's legal team, the trial will resume with a hearing to deal with procedural issues, including whether a new convening authority should be designated to receive a plea offer.
The source said in an email Friday night that negotiations between the two sides continue.
Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is accused of committing forcible oral sodomy on a 34-year-old Army captain near the end of his three-year adulterous affair with her. A conviction could send the 51-year-old combat veteran to life in prison.
On March 6, Sinclair pleaded guilty to three of the eight criminal charges he faces: failure to obey a lawful order or regulation; conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman; and adultery, which is a crime in the military.
A jury could sentence him on those charges to as much as 15 years in prison, dismissal from the Army and forfeiture of pay and allowances, said Col. James Pohl, the judge in the case.
Sinclair has the option to withdraw those guilty pleas, said Richard Scheff, his lead lawyer.
Sinclair, 51, has been in the Army since December 1985.
The court-martial was halted Monday. Sinclair's lawyers told the judge they received new evidence last weekend of unlawful command influence over a Fort Bragg general's decision several months ago to reject plea negotiations with Sinclair's lawyers and proceed with the court-martial.
Sinclair's lawyers argued that the unlawful influence - commentary in a letter saying that a plea bargain would hurt the Army as Congress reviews how the military handles sexual assault among the ranks - appears to have led Lt. Gen. Joe Anderson to reject an offer in December for Sinclair to plead guilty to the lesser charges he faced and have the more serious charges dismissed.
Anderson was the convening authority, a leader tasked with deciding when to court-martial soldiers under his command who are accused of wrongdoing and whether to accept offers to plead guilty.
Based on that evidence, Pohl on Monday gave Sinclair a new opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain.
The trial was postponed indefinitely Tuesday after Sinclair's lawyers began negotiations with Army prosecutors.
Scheff announced in court Tuesday morning that Sinclair would submit to prosecutors a new plea offer and said time is needed to consider it. Scheff said at the time that it could be weeks before the trial resumed.
Pohl told the jurors Tuesday that they could go home but said they may be called back to continue hearing the case.
In previous interviews, Sinclair's team said its client wouldn't budge on two issues during negotiations: He will not plead guilty to any sexual assault charge, and he won't plead guilty to a crime that would require him to register as a sex offender.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the Fort Bragg courthouse.