Sinclair's attorney worried his client can't get fair trial

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair
July 16, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
The Fort Bragg brigadier general facing court martial on sex assault charges made his first on-camera comments Wednesday.

Both General Jeffrey Sinclair and his lead defense attorney spoke exclusively with ABC11.

Sinclair's defense team may be fighting an uphill battle at times because they are not sitting in a civilian courtroom. Under the military justice system, jurors assigned to determine guilt or innocence must be of higher rank than the accused - meaning Sinclair's fate will be decided by a panel of fellow generals.

Sinclair has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery. Most of the charges stem 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.

The defense is saying they believe the potential jurors are acting in good faith, but also in within a distinct culture.

Sinclair kindly declined a request for an interview, saying they are not allowed.

"I'd love to. My wife and I would both love to," said Sinclair.

Sinclair's lead attorney, Richard Scheff, in his first television interview, told ABC11 that there's no way the general will get a fair jury.

"I have a hard time understanding or believing that we really can seat a fair, impartial jury," said Scheff.

He says it all boils down to military culture.

"There's a viewpoint that general officers have to be held to a different standard," said Scheff. "I understand that, and on one level, I accept that, but that's different from how that is judged in court."

In court, the task is to find 12 higher ranking generals from across the country to compose this impartial jury. All of them either know Sinclair or a high-ranking officer who appears on the witness list.

Most of them have discussed Sinclair and the case with peers, one said Wednesday. That potential juror went on to say he had a conversation with his wife regarding the alleged victim, Sinclair's subordinate

When asked about the pressures of representing the general in what may end up as a poster child case for military sex assault, Scheff says the focus is simply defense.

"There may be bigger issues, but not on my plate," he said.

Scheff said Sinclair is resilient, and he's not surprised given his combat experience.

Testimony is scheduled to begin Sept. 30.

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