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Trial delayed for Army general facing sex charges

Tuesday - 9/24/2013, 6:50pm  ET

MICHAEL BIESECKER
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The court-martial of a U.S. Army general facing sexual assault charges has been postponed for a second time.

The trial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair had been scheduled to begin at Fort Bragg next Monday. It was announced Tuesday that military Judge Col. James Pohl rescheduled the trial for Jan. 7 after a request from Sinclair's defense team.

Sinclair's chief civilian lawyer, Rich Scheff, said the delay was over several issues that are still unresolved, including an appeal of Pohl's denial of pretrial motions seeking to have the bulk of the case thrown out. The defense claims that President Barack Obama's public promises to pursue and punish sexual predators in the military put unlawful pressure on the Pentagon to bring criminal charges against Sinclair, despite what they contend is the weakness of the prosecution's case.

"There are a number of procedural issues that we are grappling with that resulted in the delay of the trial," Scheff said. "The government agreed with our assessment. Separately, we have sought appellate review of the denial of our (unlawful command influence) motions and that is working its way through the system, as well."

The court-martial had previously been set to get under way in July.

Sinclair, 50, has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery. Most of the charges come from a three-year affair with a female captain who says Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex while she served under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A 28-year Army veteran and married father of two, Sinclair was deputy commander in charge of logistics and support for the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan before being relieved of command last year and sent back to Fort Bragg. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious offenses.

The captain testified at the evidentiary hearing last year that Sinclair threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones. Though she testified she usually wanted to have sex with the general, she said that on two occasions after they had argued he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex, even as she sobbed.

The Associated Press does not publicly identify alleged victims of sexual assaults.

With the absence of physical evidence or any other witnesses, whether Sinclair is convicted on the sexual assault charges is likely to come down to whether the jury believes the account of his primary accuser. Adultery is a crime under the military code of justice, and by reporting her sexual relationship with a married commander the captain has endangered her military career.

The defense portrays the captain as a jilted lover lying to exact revenge on Sinclair for not leaving his wife and over his flirtations with other women. Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also testified that they had given the general nude photos at his request.

While he awaits trial, Sinclair has been assigned to desk duty at Fort Bragg. He and his family live in a spacious government-issued home on a leafy residential street near the heart of the sprawling North Carolina base.

Sinclair's wife of nearly three decades is standing by her husband. Though she has not attended his court hearing, she has been speaking out about the strain placed on marriages and military spouses by more than a decade of repeated wartime deployments.

In an interview with The Associated Press last summer, Rebecca Sinclair said she does not condone her husband's infidelity. But the man she's known since they were college undergrads couldn't possibly be the monster portrayed by military prosecutors, she said.

"My husband's made mistakes, he knows that, he's admitted those mistakes to me," Rebecca Sinclair said. "We're not the only people in the military that this has happened to. When you have the strain and the separations year after year after year, the marriage that you started out with isn't the same marriage that you have in the end after all of this. .... The wars that have been going on for this time does have an effect on military families."

She said the one positive of the situation is that her husband has been at home, reconnecting with their sons. She is still working to forgive him, she said.

"We've been on kind of a roller coaster," she said. "Some days are good some days are not so good -- but we both have made a conscious decision that our marriage is what we want and it's the best thing for our family."

Sinclair said she couldn't speculate what the other woman is feeling or going through.

"I don't know that. All I can speak for is me and my family," she said. "If I could talk to her... I would hope that we could just get through this, and move on."

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Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck


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