FORT BRAGG, N.C. – A military judge accepted guilty pleas on Monday from Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair that are expected to end the military’s most closely watched sexual assault prosecution and allow the former commander to admit to lesser charges in exchange for the dismissal of far more serious counts that could have led to a life sentence.
In a courtroom at Fort Bragg, Sinclair formally pleaded guilty to mistreating his former mistress – an Army captain – as well as disobeying a commander’s order not to contact her, misusing his government charge card, and using demeaning and derogatory language about female staff officers. The admissions set the stage for a sentencing hearing for the former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The key to the plea deal, which was reached over the weekend, was Sinclair’s admission that, in military legal lingo, he “maltreated” his former mistress, with whom he had long acknowledged having a three-year consensual affair.
“I led her to believe that I would leave my wife and that we would be together at some point in the future. This was not true,” Sinclair, 51, who is married with two children, told the judge, Col. James L. Pohl.
In exchange for Monday’s guilty pleas, along with others the general entered earlier this month, military prosecutors told the judge that they would drop charges that Sinclair twice sexually assaulted his former mistress by forcing her to have oral sex, threatened to kill her and her family if she revealed their affair, and engaged in consensual but “open and notorious” sex with her in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona.
Those charges could have led to life in prison and registration as a sex offender, if convicted. The new plea deal caps the surprisingly rapid and, for the military, embarrassing collapse of what once seemed a powerful case – an unraveling that began after Army prosecutors concluded that their chief witness, the former mistress, may have lied under oath at a pretrial hearing in January.
Sinclair has now admitted to charges that carry up to 25 years in prison, but the actual sentence is expected to be substantially less. Defense lawyers and the military prosecutors agreed to a deal over the weekend known as a “quantum” that will limit his incarceration. The punishment will be the lower of whatever the judge decides, or the agreed-upon cap contained in that side deal.