FORT BRAGG, N.C. — As his court-martial got underway, an Army general accused of sexual assault pleaded guilty to three lesser charges Thursday, hoping his admission will strengthen his case by limiting some of the salacious evidence against him.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair is accused of forcing a female captain to twice perform oral sex and threatening to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair.
Sinclair, 51, still faces five charges, including sexual assault, in his trial before a jury of five generals. The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges. Opening statements were expected Friday.
The case against Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial on sexual assault charges, comes as the Pentagon grapples with revelations of rampant rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Thursday on legislation that would strip senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute rapes and other serious offenses, a measure firmly opposed by the Pentagon.
The general pleaded guilty to having improper relationships with two other female Army officers and to committing adultery with the primary accuser, his mistress, which is a crime in the military. He also admitted to violating orders by possessing pornography and to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.
Sinclair's lawyer Richard Scheff said before the plea that his client was taking responsibility for his actions, but also strengthening his legal position. By admitting guilt on the three charges for which there is the strongest evidence, the married father of two hoped to narrow the focus of the trial to charges that rely heavily on the testimony and credibility of his former mistress.