FT. BRAGG, N.C. – Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair broke down in tears Wednesday at his sentencing hearing, asking the judge to allow him to retire at a reduced rank instead of dismissing him from the Army, which would deprive him of military benefits and "punish" his family for his adulterous affair with an captain.
"I have squandered a fortune of life's blessings, blessings of family, work and friendship," the one-star general said in court. "I have put myself and [the] Army in this position with my selfish, self-destructive and hurtful acts."
He said he "failed as a leader" and apologized to his accuser and the two officers he pressured to send him nude photos of themselves.
[Updated 12:35 p.m. PDT March 19: Prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss Sinclair, which would eliminate the military benefits he earned over his 27-year career. Army Maj. Rebecca DiMuro said Sinclair used his reputation as an inspirational commander to take advantage of young, impressionable female officers.
"The general's actions hurt not only him, they hurt all officers in command," DiMuro said.]
The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, is expected to sentence Sinclair on Wednesday for mistreating an Army captain with whom he conducted a three-year adulterous affair in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and the United States.
Speaking for the prosecution, Lt. Col. David Leach, who served under Sinclair in 2012 in Afghanistan, said the general's actions were "not a minor mistake. It was a matter of internal moral and ethical direction and that was most disturbing...He failed his family, soldiers he served and the American people."
Sinclair, who has remained composed during most of his court-martial the last two weeks, bent forward, his hands clasped, as attorney Ellen Brotman read a statement to the judge from Rebecca Sinclair. The general wiped his eyes with a tissue when the statement mentioned the impact of Sinclair’s adultery and prosecution on the couple’s sons, ages 10 and 12.
"My boys and I are the only truly innocent victims to these offenses," Rebecca Sinclair’s statement read. She referred to charges against her husband that have been "so publicly and horribly aired.’’
Sinclair, 51, one of only a handful of generals to face court-martial in the last 60 years, pleaded guilty Monday to mistreating the captain. He also pleaded guilty to twice misusing his government charge card to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact his mistress, and making derogatory comments about other female officers.
A week earlier, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman; possessing pornography in a war zone; conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.
The 27-year veteran of five combat tours technically faces up to 25-1/2 years in prison. However, an agreement between prosecutors and the defense puts a cap on any punishment; the actual sentence will be the lower of the two -– the cap or the judge’s sentence.
Terms of the cap agreement, known as a "quantum,’’ were not disclosed. Pohl has not seen the document, but will read it after he sentences Sinclair. The judge will then reconcile any differences between his sentence and the quantum.
If convicted on the original charges of sexual assault, sodomy and making death threats, Sinclair would have faced life in prison and registration as a sex offender. With those charges dismissed, his sentence is expected to be far less severe.
Sinclair’s lawyers have asked for no prison time, and for Sinclair to be allowed to retire at a reduced rank of lieutenant colonel – the highest rank at which he was not accused of misconduct.
It was not clear Wednesday whether, if Sinclair is sentenced to prison time, he would be placed in custody immediately or given time to put his affairs in order. That decision would be made by Army officials, not by the judge, according to military legal officers.
The "convening authority,’’ or senior commander, in Sinclair’s case is Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, the Task Force Bragg commander.
Before Rebecca Sinclair’s statement was read, the judge heard from nine character witnesses who described Sinclair as a inspirational commander who cared deeply for his soldiers. Most were current or retired officers who had served with or under Sinclair. They said they would serve with him again if given the opportunity.
Among the witnesses was Capt. Jennifer Jantzi, a civil affairs officer who testified that Sinclair was "a trusted mentor of mine’’ when she served under his command in Iraq. She said she served at the same time Sinclair was conducting a clandestine affair with the now 34-year-old accuser.
Jantzi said Sinclair was always professional and courteous to her. She said she did not know about the affair but had heard a rumor about it from her first sergeant.
She referred to Sinclair as "an exemplary leader." She said she considered him capable of learning and recovering from his mistakes, and would gladly serve under him again.
Jantzi was asked by an Army prosecutor whether Sinclair’s "mistakes," as Jantzi referred to them, were actually crimes.
"Yes, according to the UCMJ, they are crimes," she replied, referring the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Moments later, under questioning by Sinclair’s lawyer, Jantzi added: "Everyone makes mistakes, whether they are publicized or not . . . Everybody has the ability to rebound."
[For the record 12:12 p.m. PDT March 19: An earlier version of this post rendered Judge James S. Pohl's middle initial as L.]