An Army general who admitted to improper relationships withthree subordinates appeared to choke up Monday as he told a judge that he'dfailed the female captain who had leveled the most serious accusations againsthim.
Hours later, she took the stand to testify about how she can'ttrust people and fears her superiors are always going to take advantage of herin the aftermath of the three-year affair.
As he pleaded guilty, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's voice haltedwhen telling the judge why he was pleading guilty to mistreating her in a dealthat included the dropping of sexual assault charges.
"I failed her as a leader and as a mentor and caused harmto her emotional state," Sinclair said, his voice catching as he read froma statement. He asked the judge for a break and took a long drink of waterbefore continuing to read.
"I created a situation over time that caused her emotionalharm," Sinclair said, seated in his dress blue uniform. It was the firstpublic show of regret or sadness for a 27-year veteran who had betrayed littleemotion in court hearings over the past year.
The judge accepted Sinclair's guilty pleas on several lessercharges in a deal that includes the dropping of sexual assault counts and twoothers that may have required him to register as a sex offender.
The sentencing hearing for Sinclair, the former deputy commanderof the 82nd Airborne Division, began Monday afternoon and was expected to lastuntil at least the next day. As many as two-dozen witnesses could be called andSinclair's lawyer said he will either give a statement or testify. The defensealso plans to submit a letter of support from Sinclair's wife.
Ultimately, the judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can'texceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and militaryattorneys over the weekend, but has not been made public. The legal agreementis likely to require a punishment far less severe than the maximum penalties of25 ½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army.
Sinclair's lawyer suggested he might walk out of court a freeman, but without a career and perhaps with hundreds of thousands of dollarsless in pension benefits.
"I hoping for him to walk out of the courtroom, to retireat a reduced rank and go home to his family. That's what I'm hoping,"defense attorney Richard Scheff said before court started Monday.
Sinclair, 51, had been accused of twice forcing the femalecaptain under his command to perform oral sex near the end of the three-yearextramarital affair. The Associated Press does not generally identify those whosay they were victims of sexual assault.
The married general pleaded guilty earlier this month to havingimproper relationships with three subordinate officers, including the captain.He also pleaded guilty to adultery, which is a crime in the military.
The most serious accusations went to trial, but thecourt-martial was halted after the military judge found evidence that there mayhave been improper influence in a decision to reject a previous plea deal. Thenew deal was then struck, including Sinclair's admission that his treatment ofthe captain was "unwarranted, unjustified and unnecessary," brokemilitary law and mentally harmed her.
Sinclair also admitted on Monday to abusing a government creditcard he used while traveling to visit his mistress, using indecent language todemean female officers and contacting the accuser after being told not to.
After his plea, prosecutors opened the sentencing by calling theaccuser back to the stand. She remains on active duty and was granted animmunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony.
She said her career has suffered because she constantly worriesher supervisors are talking about her behind her back and trying to undermineher.
"I'm very guarded now. I have a hard time trusting people.I have a very hard time feeling safe," said the woman, who cried duringtestimony and occasionally dabbed her eyes with a tissue between questions.
She never looked at Sinclair, but looked directly at prosecutorsas she was questioned. When the lawyers would talk directly to the judgebetween questions, she looked down at her hands.
"I felt trapped," she testified about how the relationshipdeveloped. "I felt there was no emotional connection. I felt I was just beingused for sex."
The accuser also said she felt suicidal, and she admitted totelling Sinclair about it in an attempt to get his attention.
"I just wanted to die. I wanted my life to be over," she saidbefore explaining that she had not developed an actual plan to take her ownlife. "He was the only person in the entire world who could get me out of thatsituation, and he refused to."
The female officer's mother testified that since making theaccusations, her daughter bought a 95-pound dog for protection and sleeps onher couch in her four-bedroom home with a loaded gun nearby because she isscared.
In court on Monday, Sinclair denied ever putting his hands onthe captain in anger. He said about a year into the affair, he began to realizethat the captain wanted a complete relationship, while he was not going toleave his wife. Sinclair said the captain was "emotionally invested in away I was not."
While explaining his guilty plea of mistreating the captain,Sinclair said he lied and misled her beginning in September of 2010 – a yearand four months into their relationship.
"Clearly I put her under emotional duress," Sinclair saidmoments before choking up.
The general said he started using tactics to try to keep thecaptain from revealing a relationship that broke military law both becauseSinclair was married and a superior officer.
He lied and said he planned to divorce his wife to keep thecaptain hoping for something more. And he started flirting with other women inhopes that the captain would leave quietly, he said.
Sinclair said his actions were "not based on my honestfeelings for her, but were based on my fear of exposure."
Prosecutors have not spoken outside court since the plea dealwas disclosed over the weekend.
The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questionsarose about whether his primary accuser had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It wasfurther thrown into jeopardy last week when Judge Col. James Pohl said themilitary may have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a messageabout its determination to curb rape and other widespread misconduct. Under themilitary code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on theevidence, not its broader political implications.
Capt. Cassie L. Fowler, the military lawyer assigned torepresent the accuser's interests, declined to talk about the case outsidecourt Monday. She referred questions to another attorney who advised the woman,retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett.
A statement issued by Barnett said that the woman stands by herassault accusation.
Barnett said that Sinclair "literally sabotaged her careerby altering her orders to keep her under his command and refusing her manyrequests to be transferred. She was literally trapped and bullied by one of thehighest ranking officers in the United States Army."
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