The case that derailed the 27-year Army career of Brigadier
General Jeffrey Sinclair ended with a reprimand and $20,000 in
forfeited pay as punishment after a plea deal in the rare
court-martial of a top officer absolved him of sexual assault
The one-star general's defense team said they were grateful for the
sentence ordered by the trial judge, Colonel James Pohl. They argued
that Sinclair was unfairly portrayed as a sex offender when he was
guilty of far lesser wrongdoing.
"The system has worked," a relieved Sinclair, a married father of
two sons, said after court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "All I
want to do now is hug my kids and be with my wife."
Advocates of military justice reform said the case proved the armed
forces still tolerate sexual misconduct in their ranks despite
political pressure from Congress and the president to curb it. They
said the lenient sentence for Sinclair would have a chilling effect
on other victims of abuse.
"He made out like a bandit," said Eugene Fidell, a professor of
military justice at Yale Law School. "This is a baffling denouement
to a disturbing case."
The sentencing coincided with another high-profile military trial. A
judge found a Naval Academy football player not guilty on Thursday
in the sexual assault of a female midshipman at an alcohol-fueled
off-campus party in April 2012.
Sinclair, 51, was a rising star in the Army and a veteran of five
combat tours before criminal charges two years ago saw the former
deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division stripped of his
duties in southern Afghanistan.
A female captain 17 years his junior said she and the general had a
three-year illicit affair, during which she alleged he had sex with
her in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona,
threatened to kill her if she exposed the relationship, and forced
her to perform oral sex when she tried to break it off.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, declined
direct comment on the specifics of the case, but noted the Pentagon
is "always concerned about victim confidence."
"This is a serious issue," Kirby told a news briefing. "No one's
taken their eye off of it. So we always have those concerns and
we're always trying to get better at it."
Sinclair admitted to adultery and mistreating the captain but
maintained that the affair was consensual. The case began to unravel
over questions about the woman's credibility, and the defense vowed
to further undermine her at trial, but then the proceedings were
halted earlier this month.
After a finding by Pohl that politics appeared to have improperly
influenced the Army's decision to reject an earlier plea offer by
Sinclair, the general this week pleaded guilty to numerous offenses
in exchange for charges of coercive sex acts and indecent conduct
The plea bargain removed the threat of possible life in prison.
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Instead, Sinclair faced a maximum of 18 months in jail for
inappropriate relationships with junior female officers, possessing
pornography on his laptop while deployed in Afghanistan, misusing
his government credit card to visit his mistress, using derogatory
language to refer to female officers, and obstructing the military
investigation into his conduct.
The judge handed down the non-jail sentence with no explanation.
Prosecutors, who had asked for Sinclair to be dismissed by the Army
and had said he abused his power and used it to exploit women, had
Sinclair's lawyers said the general planned to submit his retirement
paperwork and could still be demoted by the Army as part of that
process. He also will reimburse the government for about $4,000 in
improper credit card expenses.
Critics said the fact that the general would be allowed to retire on
his own accord rather than getting pushed out showed that an
overhaul of the military justice system was needed.
They said charging decisions in sexual assault cases should be made
by independent military prosecutors rather than top commanders, a
proposal voted down by the U.S. Senate earlier this month.
The Senate passed a measure, still subject to House approval, that
would strengthen prosecutors' role in advising commanders on whether
to go to court-martial and eliminate the "good soldier" defense,
which allowed courts to reduce the sentence of offenders with strong
"Today's sentencing is beyond disappointing, it is a travesty and a
serious misstep for the Army," said retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie
Barnett, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Venable LLP
who represented Sinclair's main accuser.
"The slap on the wrist and 'pat on the back' for being a so-called
'good soldier' points to the importance of Congressional action,"
Sinclair's lead attorney, civilian lawyer Richard Scheff, rebuffed
"Critics of this ruling weren't in court every day, haven't examined
the evidence and have no idea what they're talking about," he said.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington, D.C.;
by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Scott Malone, James Dalgleish, Tom
Brown and Gunna Dickson)
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