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Nation/World

March 17, 2014

Defense: General's deal drops sex assault charge

(Continued)

The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Sinclair is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to ever face court martial on sexual assault charges.

A spokesman for Fort Bragg commander Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, who approved Sinclair’s plea deal, could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the defense, a separate agreement reached with Chinn will dictate what punishments Sinclair will receive. He could face more than 15 years in prison and dismissal from the Army, though the plea agreement is likely to call for a punishment much lower than the maximum penalties.

That part of the agreement will remain secret until after the judge overseeing the case, Col. James Pohl, conducts a sentencing hearing later this week. That process will include testimony from about 20 witnesses.

It was not immediately clear whether his primary accuser will be among those called to the stand. The Associated Press generally does not name those who say they were victims of sexual assault.

Capt. Cassie L. Fowler, the military lawyer assigned to represent the accuser’s interests, did not respond to a message seeking comment Sunday.

In a December letter, Fowler had argued to prosecutors that dismissing the sexual assault charges against Sinclair would not only harm her client but would set back the military’s broader fight to combat sexual assault.

At the upcoming hearing, Pohl will sentence Sinclair based on the evidence presented before unsealing the plea deal. Sinclair will receive whichever is the lesser punishment — the judge’s sentence or the negotiated pre-sentencing agreement with prosecutors.

Sinclair may also face additional administrative penalties from the Army, which could force him to retire at reduced rank. That could cost Sinclair hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension benefits.

Retired Maj. Gen. Walt Huffman, a Texas Tech University law professor who previously served as the Army’s top lawyer, said Sinclair could be busted back two ranks to lieutenant colonel since the affair with the woman began before his most recent promotion.

Huffman said it’s possible that Pohl could sentence Sinclair to a punishment lower than what’s called for in the plea agreement.

“If the judge determines he was a good soldier who served his country well other than his inability to control his zipper, then the judge might cut him a break,” Huffman said. “But either way, his career in the Army is going to be over.”

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