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Sunday, June 24, 2018

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — His eyes red, his head bowed, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair strode uneasily to a courtroom lectern Wednesday and glanced up at a silver-haired military judge who will sentence him for offenses he admits he committed.

Exactly two years had passed since a young Army captain who worked for Sinclair walked into the office of his commander in Afghanistan and revealed that she and the general had carried on an adulterous three-year affair in two war zones — prompting Army prosecutors Wednesday to ask the judge to dismiss Sinclair from the service.

Choking on his words and wiping his eyes, Sinclair apologized to the judge, the captain, his wife, his two young sons and to an institution he has served for 27 years. He begged to be allowed to retire at a reduced rank so that his family may collect military benefits “they have earned serving alongside me all these years.”

It was the close of the sentencing phase in Sinclair’s court-martial, where he has pleaded guilty to adultery, mistreating the captain, inappropriate relationships with two other female officers, obstructing an investigation and other charges.

Shortly after Sinclair spoke, an Army prosecutor in a blue dress uniform stood at the same lectern and asked the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, to dismiss Sinclair. Pohl, who listened to more than two hours of impassioned closing statements from the two sides, indicated he would impose the sentence Thursday.

Maj. Rebecca DiMuro said Sinclair had betrayed the Army and its officer corps by using his rank and authority to exploit impressionable young officers who came to him for guidance and leadership. She reminded the judge that Sinclair had pressured two officers for nude photos of themselves and asked a third for a date.

“Every time he chooses to harm a soldier, he harms everything it means to be an officer,” DiMuro said. “General Sinclair let the Army down.”

DiMuro, a special-victim prosecutor, scoffed at Sinclair’s profession of concern for his family. She noted that on the final weekend of home leave with his family at Fort Bragg before he was to return to duty in Afghanistan in March 2012, he pressured a young lieutenant for a horseback riding date, saying he was “smitten” with her.

“He begged you to consider his family,” DiMuro reminded the judge. But when he had the chance to consider them, she said, “he wasn’t thinking about them.”

Sinclair, 51, one of only a few generals to face court-martial in the last 60 years, pleaded guilty Monday to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory and sexist comments about other female officers.

A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails and photos from a civilian woman, possessing pornography in a war zone, conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers and asking the lieutenant for a date.

Under a plea agreement, the Army dismissed charges that Sinclair sexually assaulted the captain and threatened to kill her and her family if she exposed the affair. Also dropped were charges that the general had engaged in “open and notorious” sex in a parked car in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona. If convicted on the most serious charges, Sinclair would have faced life in prison and registration as a sex offender.

The veteran of five combat tours now faces up to 25½ years in prison. However, an agreement between prosecutors and the defense puts a cap on his sentence. The actual sentence will be either the cap or the judge’s sentence, whichever is shorter. Terms of the cap agreement, known as a “quantum,” were not disclosed, not even to the judge.

On Wednesday, prosecutors did not request prison time. Pohl can still impose a prison sentence, but the ultimate sentence would have to be no higher than the cap. The judge will read the quantum after sentencing, then reconcile any differences with his punishment.

If Sinclair is allowed to retire at reduced rank — his lawyers proposed lieutenant colonel, the highest position in which he served honorably — a military review board will determine his retirement rank.

Sinclair said he had caused emotional distress for the captain, 34, who in sometimes tearful testimony said she was trapped and victimized by Sinclair. She said he refused to let her out of the relationship and drove her to threaten suicide. The general apologized to all four female officers.

“It was my responsibility to ensure these officers were protected and promoted, and I failed them as a leader. For this, I am truly sorry,” he told the judge in a low, hoarse voice, standing a few steps from Pohl, wearing a dress uniform and polished paratrooper’s jump boots.