Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair leaves a Fort Bragg, N.C., courthouse last January after he deferred entering a plea at his arraignment on charges of fraud, forcible sodomy, coercion and inappropriate relationships. (Andrew Craft / AP)
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Defense lawyers for a U.S. Army general facing sexual assault charges say digital evidence collected from his accuser’s old smartphone shows she lied under oath.
The young female captain at the heart of the government’s case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair testified Tuesday during an evidentiary hearing at Fort Bragg.
Sinclair, 51, has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison at a court-martial scheduled to begin March 3.
The married general admits he carried on a three-year affair with the junior officer under his direct command during war tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he denies the woman’s accusations that he twice ended arguments by forcing her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her and her parents if she ever told anyone of their illicit relationship.
With the lack of any physical evidence of the alleged assaults, the success of the government’s case rests largely in the accuser’s credibility in testifying about what she says Sinclair did to her.
The captain testified Tuesday that on Dec. 9, shortly after what she described as a contentious meeting with prosecutors, she rediscovered an old iPhone stored in a box at her home that still contained saved text messages and voicemails from the general. After charging the phone, she testified she synced it with her computer to save photos before contacting her attorney.
However, a defense expert’s examination of data military investigators later recovered from the phone suggests the captain powered up the device Nov. 24, more than two weeks before the meeting with prosecutors. She also tried to make a call and performed a number of other operations, according to the data.
Her failure to immediately turn over the evidence may have violated the terms of her immunity agreement with the government to testify about her relationship with Sinclair. Adultery is a crime in the military.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults.
Following the hearing, Sinclair lawyer Richard Scheff said the accuser had perjured herself under oath. The defense has long claimed the captain is a scorned lover lying to avenge the general’s refusal to leave his wife for her.
“When somebody lies to the government and then lies on the witness stand, then that undercuts her credibility,” Scheff said. “That hurts their case.”
Military prosecutors have refused to comment on the case as a matter of policy.
The defense has now retained a digital forensic expert to examine the iPhone to look for any indication the accuser altered or deleted anything before turning it over to authorities.
At several points during Tuesday’s hearing, military prosecutors appeared frustrated by both the accuser and the lawyer assigned to represent her, at one point asking the judge for an urgent recess so they could confer privately.
Military Judge Col. James Pohl said he would sign an order requested by the defense for an examination of the woman’s desktop computer and four other old cellphones found in the same box to see if they were used during her relationship with the general.
Pohl remarked that the forensic data from the accuser’s iPhone suggests the memory of the prosecution’s key witness appears “fuzzy, for the lack of a better term.”