FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — An Army general awaiting sentencing for inappropriate relationships with three subordinates was praised Tuesday by more than a dozen defense witnesses as a smart, inspirational leader who deeply cared for his soldiers.
But prosecutors had one more reminder that Brig Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair didn't have all his soldiers' best interests in mind. A witness they called testified about a bawdy skit at a 2010 Army party that included dressed-up soldiers mocking the rampant rumors that the general was having an affair with a captain under his command.
Sinclair could learn his fate Wednesday as his sentencing hearing wraps up, though it's not clear if the judge will rule immediately. Sinclair faces a maximum of 21 ½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will likely face far less jail time and may not be sent behind bars at all.
The general admitted he mistreated the captain and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery — which is 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 under his command to perform oral sex during the three-year extramarital affair, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.
Defense lawyers spent Tuesday focusing on the 27-year Army career that took Sinclair from the small West Virginia town where he grew up poor to a position leading thousands as deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne. They called his brother, his ROTC commander from college, a military wife whose husband served alongside him for years and a soldier who said Sinclair was the only person who believed he had something to contribute to the Army after he hurt his back.
Most had extensive praise for Sinclair, including retired Chief Warrant Officer Eric Lee, who testified by phone from Chile. He met Sinclair when both were Rangers in 1994.
Asked by Sinclair's lawyers if he would follow the general into combat if he were deployed again, he said: "I'd be on the next plane out of the Santiago airport."
Such testimony could be banned from future military trials under legislation being considered in Congress. To better protect alleged victims within the ranks, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation last week to ban the "good-soldier defense" in order to ensure that a defendant's fate is determined solely by evidence. The House has signaled it won't take up the bill immediately despite the momentum generated by the Senate's 97-0 vote.
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