Sinclair, 51, a married father of two, is accused of twice forcing
oral sex during a three-year affair he admitted to having with a
junior female officer during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and
back home in the United States.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges that include forcible sodomy,
indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer.
The accusations saw him removed from command in Afghanistan in 2012
and sent back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the trial is
The military judge hearing the case refused to dismiss the charges
based on defense attorneys' argument that top military leaders had
improperly injected themselves into the case.
The court-martial takes place as the Department of Defense has
struggled to deal with a number of high-profile cases of sexual
assault, including some involving personnel put in charge of
combating the crime.
President Barack Obama has ordered military leaders to review the
problem, which came into sharper focus after an annual Pentagon
study released last May estimated that incidents of unwanted sexual
contact, from groping to rape, jumped 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000
cases from 19,000 the previous year.
Among other charges, prosecutors also accuse Sinclair of seeking
nude photos from several other female soldiers and possessing
pornography while deployed.
Sinclair, who has served five combat tours during his nearly 30-year
military career, denies ever engaging in non-consensual sex and says
he never threatened to harm the junior officer if she exposed the
affair or used his rank to coerce subordinates.
His defense team argues that text messages show that a loving
relationship between the general and the now 34-year-old Army
captain fractured when she grew jealous of his interactions with his
wife and another female soldier.
QUESTIONS OVER POLITICS
The proceedings on Tuesday focused on a motion by Sinclair's
attorneys to have all the charges thrown out because military
leaders outside the proper chain of command had weighed in on the
direction of the case.
Defense attorney Richard Scheff said that the former lead
prosecutor, who resigned abruptly less than a month before the
trial, told him politics and outside pressures were driving the
Scheff said the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel William Helixon, felt
Sinclair was a war hero who should be allowed to retire rather than
be prosecuted in a case plagued by weak evidence and questions about
the key accuser's credibility.
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Military officials offered a different account of the prosecutor's
state of mind. Lieutenant Colonel Jerrett Dunlap, a staff judge
advocate, said Helixon "looked distraught" during a meeting last
month in which the lawyer disclosed serious personal health and
He said Helixon felt the sex charges would be hard to prove at trial
and should be dismissed for tactical reasons, even though the
prosecutor believed the accusations. Dunlap said Helixon had "moral
concerns" about pressing ahead.
"He was under emotional distress from the case. He expressed he
didn't want to go forward," Dunlap testified, adding that Helixon
did not feel ethically barred from doing so however.
In court documents filed last week, the new lead prosecutor,
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Stelle, said the military's refusal to
accept Sinclair's offer to plead guilty to adultery and conduct
unbecoming an officer had nothing to do with outside influence.
The military judge in the case, Colonel James Pohl, ruled Tuesday
evening that the trial would go forward on the charges as scheduled.
He said opening statements would not be given until Thursday
Scheff called the day's testimony "deplorable."
"The government undertook a vicious character assault against
someone they previously called their 'rock star' sex crimes
prosecutor, because he was the only Army leader with the integrity
to stand up to politics," Scheff said in a statement.
A panel of five generals will sit as jurors in the case, which could
run through March 28.
Sinclair's wife, Rebecca, spoke out early in the case about the toll
recent wars had taken on military marriages, but she will not attend
the trial, Scheff said, noting, "It's a painful thing for her."
(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Scott Malone, Sofina
Mirza-Reid and Jonathan Oatis)
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