The judge said he would allow Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair
to renew an offer to plead guilty to some lesser charges in exchange
for the most serious allegations of coercive sex acts being dropped.
Military leaders at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, rejected a previous
such proposal by the one-star general after giving improper
consideration to a letter from the main accuser's lawyer that
invoked politics while urging them to deny the offer, Colonel James
Debate about the role that influences outside the military chain of
command played in Sinclair's prosecution halted the day's scheduled
testimony and could result in an indefinite delay in the trial.
"This is an unprecedented situation," said lead defense attorney
Richard Scheff. "It's a mess, a mess not created by us."
Defense attorneys had been expected to question the female Army
captain who, in a tearful account last week, said Sinclair twice
forced her to engage in oral sex when she tried to break off their
secret three-year affair and also threatened to kill her if she told
anyone about the relationship.
The married general denies sexually assaulting the captain 17 years
his junior and says the relationship was consensual, although
inappropriate by military standards.
Pohl put the cross-examination on hold and dismissed jurors until
Tuesday to take up a motion Sinclair's attorneys filed after the
government disclosed new email evidence over the weekend.
Scheff said the emails proved the convening authority in the case,
Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, rejected the guilty plea offer
after the captain's special victims counsel warned Anderson that it
"would have an adverse effect on my client and the Army's fight
against sexual assault."
The December letter from the counsel, Captain Cassie Fowler, also
referred to a debate among U.S. lawmakers about whether prosecution
decisions in sexual assault cases should be removed from military
Anderson, who now commands international forces in Afghanistan,
testified by phone from the Swedish embassy in Kabul that neither
the contents of the letter nor any of his superior officers
convinced him to deny Sinclair's offer.
"I asked one simple question, what does the victim want to do, and
the answer was she wants to proceed to trial," Anderson said.
"That's what I based my decision on."
Pohl said an email Anderson sent a few days after the letter from
Fowler suggested another influence at play.
"I have read the letter and made my decision," Anderson wrote to a
military lawyer involved in the case.
[to top of second column]
DELAY IN DISCOVERY
The judge criticized the prosecution for waiting so long to produce
the emails sought by the defense and for bringing them to light
after the trial was underway.
But Pohl disagreed with defense lawyers that dismissing the sexual
assault charges was the proper fix.
"What we have here is a wrong," the judge said. "To dismiss the
charges based on this wrong would not be appropriate."
The judge gave Sinclair's lawyers until Tuesday to decide whether
they will submit another plea offer. A new convening authority would
be chosen to consider the offer, though details were still being
worked out about that selection process.
It was unclear if the trial would be put on hold should Sinclair
renew his offer.
Defense attorneys would not discuss specifics of the prior offer.
They have said in the past that Sinclair proposed to plead guilty to
the military crimes of adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer if
the sex assault charges were dropped.
The general pleaded guilty last week to lesser offenses that carry a
maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and possible dismissal from
the Army, but his attorneys said they could move to withdraw that
plea after the events on Monday.
"We're trying to figure out our strategy," Scheff said.
The 34-year-old captain on Friday recounted her rocky relationship
with Sinclair, who as a result of her accusations faces a forcible
sodomy charge that could send the 51-year-old general to prison for
He is accused of grabbing her genitalia against her will and of
having sex with her in public, charges that saw him removed from
command in southern Afghanistan in 2012.
(Editing by David Adams, Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Eric
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