By Michael Biesecker
The Associated Press
---- — FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An Army general who carried on a three-year extramarital affair with a subordinate should be thrown out of the military, prosecutors argued Wednesday, advocating for a decision that would likely wipe out his benefits.
Defense attorneys countered in their closing argument that a reduction in benefits for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair would harm his wife and children the most.
After both sides wrapped up their arguments, Judge Col. James Pohl adjourned the hearing until Thursday morning — meaning Sinclair will have to wait at least one more day to learn his fate. Sinclair's sentencing comes as the military and Congress grapple with the problem of sex crimes in the ranks.
Prosecutor Maj. Rebecca Dimuro argued against the idea that Sinclair made an uncharacteristic mistake in an otherwise stellar career. The defense had called witnesses who lauded Sinclair as a selfless leader in hopes of getting a lenient punishment.
Dimuro used a slide show to go over decisions by Sinclair over the course of inappropriate relationships with three women under his command.
"It's not just one mistake. Not just one lapse in judgment. It was repeated," she said. "They are not mistakes. We are not in the court of criminal mistakes. These are crimes."
Sinclair faces a maximum of more than 20 years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will likely wind up with a far less severe punishment.
The sentence can't exceed terms in a sealed agreement between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The judge will make his own decision before unsealing the document, and Sinclair will receive whichever is the more lenient punishment.
The judge could dismiss Sinclair from the Army, which would likely wipe out his health care and retirement benefits. If the judge allows Sinclair to retire from the military instead of dismissing him, Sinclair's commanding officer would decide whether to reduce Sinclair's rank — which could also cost him dearly in benefits.
The general admitted he mistreated a captain under his command during a three-year affair and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery — a crime in the military — as well as using his government-issued credit card to pay for improper trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 51-year-old general had been accused of twice forcing the female captain to perform oral sex during the three-year affair, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about his primary accuser's credibility and whether military officials improperly rejected a previous plea deal because of political concerns.
Sinclair broke down in tears multiple times during Wednesday's hearing.
When a letter from his wife was read, Sinclair buried his head in his hands, appeared to cry and dabbed his eyes with two tissues.
In the letter, Rebecca Sinclair says she hasn't fully forgiven her husband but doesn't want the Army to punish him and his family further with a significant reduction to his pension and other benefits.
"Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and guilt that he lives with every day," writes Rebecca Sinclair, who hasn't attended her husband's hearings.
Sinclair broke down at several points as he read a statement to the judge, pausing to collect himself. He apologized to his family and the women with whom he admitted inappropriate relationships.
"I've been frustrated and angry, but I don't have to look any further than the mirror for someone to blame," he said. He also pointed out that Wednesday was two years to the day since his primary accuser came forward.
Defense lawyers finished calling character witnesses earlier in the day, with many lauding Sinclair's leadership and saying they would serve with him again if they could.
Prosecutors also called a final rebuttal witness on Wednesday, Lt. Col. David Leach, who served under Sinclair in Afghanistan.
"It is extremely disappointing to me that my commander, who had talked to me about discipline, could have engaged in this sort of prolonged conduct," Leach said.
Asked if he would serve with Sinclair again, Leach said he would not.