Sinclair sentencing hearing continues, dispute over Mrs. Sinclair's letter

Sexual assault charges against Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair have been dropped, and a plea deal accepted.
March 18, 2014 3:58:01 PM PDT
Prosecutors in Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's court-martial called five witnesses to the stand Tuesday morning, including the accuser's former commander, an 82nd Airborne budget manager and a female officer with whom Sinclair admitted to attempting to have an inappropriate relationship with in 2012.

The witnesses are among several testifying in day two of the general's  sentencing hearing for admitting guilt to maltreatment, adultery and misuse of a government credit card. Over the weekend, the government dropped sex assault charges against Sinclair in a plea deal, an option  made possible after the  case was ruled damaged by political pressure.

Under the court's ruling, Sinclair faces a maximum 25 years in prison, but his plea deal outlines a different max sentence. Sinclair will receive the lesser of the two.

The first witness was Col. Michelle Schmidt, a former 82nd Airborne senior intelligence  who was the accuser's commander in Iraq.  She testified by telephone from Fort Bragg, where she's currently serving with the United States Army Special Operations Command.

Schmidt assigned the accuser to be a Key Leader Engagement officer, or KLE, to Sinclair for a few months so he could get his footing with Afghan leaders. She testified to several failed attempts to get the accuser back to her originally assigned duties.

"Every time I tried to get her back in the J-2 section, there was pushback from Gen. Sinclair," she said, noting that she had to move other officers around to cover the accused's duties.

At one point, Schmidt said a conversation about the accuser  returning to her duty became confrontational in Afghanistan.

"He was extremely angry and basically yelling at me outside," she said. "He walked into the building and basically slammed the door in my face."

The defense countered by asking whether Schmidt was aware

Prosecutors called Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Ratliff, a budget manager for the 82nd Airborne who reviewed Sinclair's government credit card statements following two TDYs. Sinclair has admitted to using the cards for personal use, as he was facilitating the 2010 trips to see the main accuser.

Prosecutors wanted to outline specific misuse, but they had already agreed with the defense to reveal the total funds misused. It adds up to more than $4,000.

"We're beating a horse that's already dead," said defense counsel Maj. Sean Foster, arguing the testimony had no relevance because the defense was already admitting guilt to misusing the above amount.

Ratliff's testimony was cut short when Judge James Pohl agreed.

Col. Benjamin Bigelow, another 82nd commander who served under Sinclair in Iraq, testified that he'd tried to squash rumors of an affair between the accuser and Sinclair back in 2011.

"He vehemently denied that there was.," said Bigelow of a conversation with Sinclair."I took him at his word."

Bigelow went on to describe a Hail and Farewell sendoff for Sinclair and his wife. It was in Germany in the spring of 2009.

Bigelow said a skit was performed as a roast to Sinclair.  Male officers depicted Sinclair and a female subordinate in a wig colored the same as the accuser's hair.

"During the skit that character approached Gen. Sinclair's character got on their knees and offered to do something for him," Bigelow said.

Bigelow said there was "no question," that the skit was depicting an offer of oral sex and his wife, Sinclair's wife and other " had their mouths open and were clearly shocked, angered and dismayed (by the skit)."

"(I'm) Disappointed with them that they would try to make something out of nothing," said                         defense attorney Richard Scheff, questioning the testimony's relevance. "A skit he had nothing to do with, a skit that afterwards he made sure the main accuser was talked to make sure she was okay. And frankly, a skit that involved other people as well where supposedly she was doing the same to other people. So what is the meaning of it? It means nothing."

Another female, junior officer testified she'd received career advice from Gen. Sinclair in 2010, during his Rest and Relaxation period from deployment in Afghanistan. Lt. Nargis Kabiri is a field artillery officer with the 82nd Airborne, and was once deployed to Afghanistan with Sinclair.

During the R&R period, she'd met with him in a  division  office on Fort Bragg, and received advice. A second planned meeting never occurred before Sinclair headed back down range, partly because of an assignment Kabiri received, and partly because she felt uneasy, she testified. Sinclair told her via email they could get breakfast and go horseback riding.

"Something didn't seem right. It's not something I can really put into words," she said. "I guess now I'm thankful for it."

Kabiri said in telephone and email exchanges, Sinclair was clearly agitated by the failed meeting. She would later learn about the allegations against Sinclair, and today in court, she learned he'd pleaded guilty to attempting an inappropriate relationship with her.

"I guess I never considered myself a victim when it came to this, however, I feel victimized by the process."

Kabiri said once her name hit the newspaper and connected her to the case, her career has suffered.

"I have senior male leaders who approach me with caution and vice-versa. I approach them with caution," she said. "I have senior leaders.....that won't even let me in their office. I have to sit in an open area."

"I feel like this case has worked against me," she continued through tears.

"INSPIRATIONAL, SECOND-TO-NONE"

The afternoon featured several defense witnesses who testified to Sinclair's leadership, charisma, and commitment to soldiers. Many of them were officers who served with the Gen. in combat.

"I felt that whenever I was with Gen. Sinclair....we would win. Period," said retired Army Major Ryan Arends. " We were going to win whatever operation was in front of us, and that says a lot."

Arends served twice with Sinclair, in Germany and down range.  When he met his new commander, he'd suffered a back injury, a botched surgery and was preparing to be medically retired.

"At that point I was pretty much at the lowest point of my life," he said, noting he was not allowed to perform many work duties.

Arends said when Sinclair took command, he walked over to him, asked what happened, and began to develop a physical therapy program that would allow Arends to fully recover.

"Gen. Sinclair gave me the opportunity to feel like I was doing something important," he said, calling Sinclair's leadership 'second to none.' "It gave me the self-confidence to know that I can make a difference....I can't thank him enough."

"One, he always sought to inspire," said "He made people feel special and he challenged people to do more than they thought they could."

Michael Sinclair, Sinclair's older brother, described the family's poor upbringing in a small, West Virginia town. They are two of five brothers. Gen. Sinclair is the youngest.

The brothers often smiled affectionately at one another, and Sinclair requested his defense attorneys to take a quick recess so he could say good-bye to his brother.

Howaita Allswing is a military spouse whose husband served under Sinclair in Germany. She said Sinclair had apologized to family and friends about the effect this case would have on all of them.

"He was a wonderful boss to husband," she said "Soldiers and their families were very important to him, and that was obvious in the way he treated all of us."

"Family came first with the Sinclairs," she said.

A retired Chief Warrant officer who served under Sinclair also testified that Sinclair had admitted to the relationship with the accused, and took full responsibility with family and friends for his actions

"Gen. Sinclair is not afraid of the truth, and I've know many fearless men who are scared to death of the truth," said Eric Lee , testifying over the phone from Chile.

"My opinion of him as a man, that will not change in this lifetime."

MRS. SINCLAIR

Rebecca Sinclair, the Gen.'s wife of nearly 30 years, is home caring for the couple's 10 and 12-year-old sons.

Away from the spotlight and chaos, she penned a letter to Judge Pohl, offering her own unsworn impact statement. At the end of session Tuesday, prosecutors objected to the letter being read in court, challenging its evidentiary basis.

"The judge ought to hear everything. You ought to hear everything, and that's what Gen. Sinclair ought to be judged on," Scheff told reporters.

The defense will fight on Wednesday to enter the letter into court. When asked why Mrs. Sinclair wouldn't just show up to testify, the team came to her defense.

"Her family and her life has been under a spotlight for two years," said Scheff. "Her husband, charged inappropriately essentially with rape. Something that didn't happen. Something he never should have been charged with. This case shouldn't have been where it was."

"Her entire family has been dragged through the mud, and she's not happy about it, as anybody wouldn't be," he continued. "She's trying to put back the pieces, and has done a great job doing so. She'll continue to make that effort the same way Gen. Sinclair will."

In the letter, Rebecca Sinclair asks the judge not to mistake her physical absence for a lack of support. She also says the letter is not an attempt to ask for anything other than a fair sentence. Sinclair goes on to talk about the stresses of moves and deployments with the Army over the general's nearly three decade career.

"I do not view these separations or disruption as an excuse for infidelity, and neither does Jeff," she writes. "But I alone have been the witness to the depth of his remorse over his conduct. Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and guilt he lives with every day."

SENTENCING

The defense expects a sentence will be handed down on Wednesday, following the testimony of their last half dozen witnesses. They are hoping it is void of jail time, and still have not disclosed the maximum sentence outline in their plea deal.


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