Hearing for Army general accused of sex crimes

Associated Press Modified: November 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm •  Published: November 5, 2012
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In March, the Army quickly released charge sheets laying out evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of gunning down 17 Afghan civilians during a massacre in southern Afghanistan. The first Article 32 hearing in Bale's case also began Monday across the country in Washington at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.

Before prosecutors could start presenting their case against Sinclair Monday, defense lawyer Lt. Col. Jackie Thompson alleged that military investigators had violated his client's rights by reading confidential emails he had exchanged with his lawyers and wife discussing the accusations against him.

Under questioning from Thompson, the lead investigator for the case acknowledged she had read the confidential e-mails, violating the terms of the subpoena used to obtain them from Sinclair's service provider. Those e-mails were later turned over to prosecutors, who are barred from seeing Sinclair's communications with his counsel.

Thompson then asked Criminal Investigative Command Special Agent Leona Mansapit if she had the resources she needed to conduct a proper investigation in Sinclair's case.

"Probably not, sir," Mansapit replied. "I wish I had."

The defense is asking the officer conducting the hearing, Maj. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins, to either require all new prosecutors to be assigned or the case thrown out.

"The investigators were tainted, and they tainted the prosecutors," Thompson told Wiggins. "They bungled the investigation, and if you leave them in place, they will bungle the prosecution as well."

A visibly flustered lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. William Helixon, was put in the uncomfortable position of calling two of his fellow prosecutors to the witness stand to deny they had read the privileged e-mails. The defense learned of the apparent violation by spotting the e-mails among 16,000 pages of evidence turned over by the prosecution earlier this month.

Wiggins eventually elected to proceed with the Article 32 hearing, after which he will make a recommendation up the chain of command about whether to court martial Sinclair. The hearing was set to resume Tuesday morning with the female captain taking the witness stand.

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Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck

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