A US general accused of sexual assault pleaded guilty on Thursday to three lesser charges, a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the US Army’s small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
The case against US Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the US military ever to face trial on sexual assault charges, comes as the US Pentagon grapples with revelations of rampant rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks.
In his immaculate blue dress uniform, Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge on Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
Sinclair, 51, a married father of two, still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain who said he twice forced her to perform oral sex.
By pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair’s lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former US deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected yesterday.
Pohl accepted Sinclair’s plea after nearly three hours of often intimate questions about the married general’s flirtations and dalliances with four women — three military officers and one civilian.
Asked by US judge Colonel James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice, with no emotion: “Yes sir.”
The general pleaded guilty to having improper relationships with two female US Army officers and to committing adultery with a third, the US captain who was his longtime mistress. Adultery is a crime in the US military.
After he knew he was under investigation, Sinclair also admitted deleting nude photographs from a personal e-mail account sent by a civilian woman with whom he was childhood friends.
In pleading guilty to possessing a cache of porn on his laptop in Afghanistan, a violation of orders for soldiers in the socially conservative Muslim country, Sinclair’s defense hopes to limit the ability of US prosecutors to use those graphic images to shock the jury.
Prosecutors also have evidence that Sinclair asked two female officers to send nude photographs of themselves to him.
By conceding his guilt, the defense lessens the relevance of the messages they exchanged.
The primary accuser, his former mistress, is the only one alleging assault.
The defense will present evidence that the female captain lied under oath during a pretrial hearing in January about her handling of an old iPhone containing messages between her and the general.
Lawyers for Sinclair have painted the woman as a scorned lover who only reported the sexual assault allegations after the general refused to leave his wife.
The captain testified that on Dec. 9 last year, shortly after what she described as a contentious meeting with prosecutors, she rediscovered an old iPhone stored in a box at her home that still contained saved text messages and voicemails from the general.
After charging the phone, she testified she synced it with her computer to save photographs before contacting her attorney.
However, a defense expert’s examination suggested the captain powered up the device more than two weeks before the meeting with prosecutors. Three additional experts verified the finding.