Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair embraces his defense attorney, Ellen C. Brotman, on Monday outside the Fort Bragg, N.C. courthouse. (Johnny Horne / AP)
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA — A general who broke military law repeatedly during a three-year extramarital affair with a subordinate should be thrown out of the Army and lose his benefits, prosecutors said Wednesday during closing arguments at his sentencing.
The defense argued that dismissing Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair from the military would do the most harm to his wife and children, calling them the only innocent people in the case.
After both sides finished, Judge Col. James Pohl adjourned the hearing until Thursday morning — meaning Sinclair will have to wait at least one more day to learn his fate. Sinclair’s sentencing comes as the military and Congress grapple with sex crimes in the ranks.
Prosecutor Maj. Rebecca Dimuro disputed the notion promoted by the defense that Sinclair made an uncharacteristic mistake in an otherwise stellar career. The defense had called a host of character witnesses to laud Sinclair as a selfless leader in hopes of getting a lenient punishment.
Dimuro used a slide show to point out decisions by Sinclair over the course of inappropriate relationships with three women under his command.
“It’s not just one mistake. Not just one lapse in judgment. It was repeated,” she said. “They are not mistakes. We are not in the court of criminal mistakes. These are crimes.”
Sinclair faces a maximum of more than 20 years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will likely wind up with a far less severe punishment.
The sentence can’t exceed terms in a sealed agreement between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The judge will make his own decision before unsealing the document, and Sinclair will receive whichever is the more lenient punishment.
The judge could dismiss Sinclair from the Army, which would likely wipe out his health care and retirement benefits. If the judge allows Sinclair to retire from the military instead, Sinclair’s commanding officer would decide whether to reduce Sinclair’s rank — which could also cost him dearly in benefits.
The general admitted he mistreated a captain under his command during a three-year affair and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery — a crime in the military — as well as using his government-issued credit card to pay for trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 51-year-old general had been accused of twice forcing the female captain to perform oral sex during the three-year affair, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
The Army’s case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about his primary accuser’s credibility and whether military officials improperly rejected a previous plea deal because of political concerns.
A military lawyer representing Sinclair argued that his wife, Rebecca, had made a significant investment in the Army herself by holding leadership positions in organizations that helped soldiers’ families. Maj. Sean Foster said Rebecca Sinclair and the couple’s two sons would be hurt the most if the general lost benefits.
“These three are the only truly innocent people in this case,” he said.
Even if Sinclair were allowed to retire and demoted by two ranks, the defense calculated that he would still lose $831,000 in retirement benefits over his expected life span. And no matter what, Sinclair will be paying a hefty price with his lost career and ruined reputation.
“That is a life sentence in itself,” Foster said.
Sinclair broke down in tears multiple times during Wednesday’s hearing.
When a letter from his wife was read, Sinclair buried his head in his hands, appeared to cry and dabbed his eyes with two tissues.
In the letter, Rebecca Sinclair says she hasn’t fully forgiven her husband but doesn’t want the Army to punish him and his family further with a significant reduction to his pension and other benefits.
“Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and guilt that he lives with every day,” writes Rebecca Sinclair, who hasn’t attended her husband’s hearings.
Jeffrey Sinclair broke down at several points as he read a statement to the judge, pausing to collect himself. He apologized to his family and the women with whom he admitted inappropriate relationships.
“I’ve been frustrated and angry, but I don’t have to look any further than the mirror for someone to blame,” he said, noting the hearing came exactly two years after the captain came forward with allegations on March 19, 2012.