Ft. Bragg general Sinclair sentenced, will not face prison time

Sentenced to a loss of pay, early retirement, and no prison Thursday.
March 20, 2014 5:47:09 PM PDT
It took less than ten minutes for Col. James Pohl to issue General Jeffrey Sinclair his sentence void of prison time.

Then, a courtroom divided. Sinclair hugging and crying with his defense in relief. Army prosecutors visibly disappointed.

The General stepped out for about 20 minutes to call his wife, Rebecca. Then he spoke to the media for the first time at length.

"This has been a very difficult time for me and my family. It really has," Sinclair said. "The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army. All I want to do now is go up North and hug my kids and see my wife."

Sinclair, 51, pleaded guilty to adultery, maltreatment of his main accuser, obstruction of justice, and several other lesser charges than sex assault. Those assault charges were dropped over the weekend, as a part of a plea deal cut after Pohl ruled that Unlawful Command Influence had damaged the high-profile case. That was evidenced in e-mails between several military legal authorities that suggested the case had been prosecuted because of political pressure.

A quantum in that plea stated Sinclair would not spend more than 18 months in prison, though the court ruled a maximum sentence could include 25 and a half years in jail. But Pohl's sentence was confined to a reprimand-forfeiture of $5,000 a month for four months, repaying about $4,000 in government credit card expenses, and retiring early.

Fort Bragg Maj. Gen. Clarence Chinn will issue Sinclair's formal reprimand. Then the Army Review Boards Agency will decide whether to honorably or dishonorably retire at a reduced rank, most likely Lieutenant Colonel. He stands to lose about $800,000 in pension and benefits.

That whole process may take several months.

"I do believe that part of what the sentence reflects is the fact that General Sinclair has been unfairly labeled as a sex offender for the past two years," said defense attorney Ellen Brotman, following the ruling. "And (he) has suffered under that unfair labeling and these false accusations, and that was a terrible punishment that he never deserved."

Sinclair's defense team walked out of the courtroom laughing and breathing a sigh of relief as they took in the victory late Thursday morning.

"We don't need a plane to fly home, we're just going to fly out," laughed Richard Scheff.

"I'm going to fly the plane, actually," added Brotman.

"I would hope that the revelations that two prosecutors believed the sexual assault charges should not have been brought, once they were brought should have been dismissed and ultimately the dismissal of those charges would convince everyone that politics has no place in this process," said Scheff.

Maj. Sean Foster, the team's only military counsel, stood in the background. When asked how he felt about the ruling considering he is a part of the system the defense criticized, he stepped up to the microphone.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment in regards to that," Foster said. "I was just happy to be able to serve Gen. Sinclair again."

Army prosecutors originally said they would make a statement to the media immediately following the ruling. They later declined to comment, but offered a statement from their civilian co-counsel, Jamie Barnett. Barnett is a retired Rear Admiral, who is now a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.

"Today's sentencing is beyond disappointing, it is a travesty and a serious misstep for the Army," Barnett said in the statement. "A general who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, criminal cruelty and maltreatment towards subordinates improper relationships with three women under his command and the possession of pornography gets off with a fine and letter of reprimand in his service record. The slap on the wrist and "pat on the back" for being a so-called "good soldier" points to the importance of Congressional action."

Barnett goes on to say that the main accuser has told him the sentence does not take away the pain and anguish she has endured.

"Today's sentencing shows us that sexual abuse continues to be a significant issue for the military. Some in the military still seem to view this as having been a consensual affair. No sexual advances by a superior officer towards a junior officer or soldier under his or her command can be viewed as consensual," he writes.

"It is sexual abuse from the beginning.  'Capt. Smith' (an alias for the accuser) had to stand alone for nearly two years, sometimes without an attorney, while a well-financed media campaign and nearly constant statements by General Sinclair's defense counsel tried to destroy her credibility and continued to victimize her.  Her courage and devotion seeking to ensure that this trauma does not happen to others is truly magnificent."

The case, and its two years of roller coaster twists, has been closely watched as Congress grapples with whether the military should prosecute its own sex assault cases.

"We all believe that if there is a problem in the military for sexual assault, and you know other people have determined that there is, that things ought to be done to make sure that that's corrected. We fully support that," said Scheff.

"We think that victims ought to be supported and people ought to be encouraged to step forward when the right case is brought. This was not the right case to be brought. We didn't have victims in this case. The only victim in this case was Gen. Sinclair."

Conversely, the national nonpartisan civil rights group, Service Women's Action Network, issued a statement through its policy director and Marine veteran, Greg Jacob.

"Today's sentencing is reflective of a case that fell apart long before today," Jacob said. "A system shaky enough to be rocked by allegations of undue command influence cannot provide justice for our troops."

"The General Sinclair case will go down in history as yet another reason we need Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act."

See It On TV | Report A Typo |  Send Tip |  Get Alerts | Send us photos
Follow @abc11 on Twitter  |  Become a fan on Facebook


Load Comments