FT. BRAGG, N.C. – Cross examination was scheduled to begin Monday morning for the U.S. Army captain who has accused her former commander of sexually assaulting her.
But late Sunday, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's defense attorneys renewed their claims of Army command interference in his sexual assault prosecution and asked the military judge to reconsider his refusal to drop the charges.
In a motion filed in response to 14 pages of emails that military prosecutors provided over the weekend, defense lawyers referred to an email by a senior Army legal officer expressing concern that the accuser lied on the stand at a preliminary hearing in January.
"The perception of fairness is in considerable doubt such that these proceedings have been infected by both apparent and actual unlawful command influence," the defense wrote.
The emails appear to show that Army officials were concerned about the accuser’s truthfulness -- in addition to similar concerns cited by the lead prosecutor before he quit the case last month after failing to persuade the Army to drop the most serious charges against Sinclair.
The accuser testified Jan. 7 about a cellphone she said she found while unpacking boxes Dec. 9, long after evidence in the case was supposed to be turned over. Forensic analysis indicated that the woman lied about when she found the phone and what she did with it. The phone contains messages to and from Sinclair.
"It is possible that she was not truthful," Col. Michael Lacey, a senior military lawyer at Ft. Bragg, wrote Jan. 8 to Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was then Ft. Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps commander. The accuser had testified the day before.
In Sunday's motion, lead defense lawyer Richard Scheff says the emails are evidence of "unlawful command influence" by Army officials. The defense has argued that the Army trumped up charges against Sinclair in response to political pressure to show that it is getting tough on sexual assault in the ranks.
The accuser spent nearly five hours on the stand last Friday, at times tearful and sobbing.
Among her accusations is that Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex in a military office complex in Afghanistan. She testified that he also fondled her breasts and crotch against her will on a military flight from Baghdad to Kuwait, on a plane jammed with soldiers.
Shortly after her testimony, Sinclair's lawyer, Scheff, told reporters outside the courthouse that the captain's “ever-changing story is wholly inconsistent with her own journal entries, text messages, emails and even her past testimony.''
In opening statements Friday, the defense said it would confront the accuser with her journal and text messages to show she voluntarily stayed in the relationship and told Sinclair she loved him even after the alleged assaults. She ultimately accused Sinclair because she discovered he was in a relationship with another female officer, the defense says, and he would not divorce his wife for her.
"She spun a tale today that will crumble under cross-examination," Scheff said.
The captain testified that the assaults took place after she demanded that Sinclair remove her from her job working directly for him. In the first attack, she said, Sinclair roughly pushed her head and shoulders down inside her office after she told him that "I hated my life. I hated working for him."
The captain, 34, said she tried to resist, but “he put his other hand on my shoulder. He kept pushing me down.'' The second assault took place about a week later, she said.
Choking back tears on the witness stand, she said she pushed him away and told him during the second assault: "If you ... touch me again I’ll scream and I don’t care who hears."
At the time, Sinclair, now 51, was deputy commander for U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan.
The captain said the assaults took place around December 2011, after an off-and-on extramarital affair that lasted nearly three years across three continents.
Early in their relationship, while both were serving in Iraq, Sinclair threatened to kill the captain and her family if she divulged the affair, she testified. She said he told her that he would "do it in a way no one would ever know." He added, according to the captain: "You need to know what you’re dealing with."
Sinclair, one of the few generals to face a court-martial in the last half-century, is charged with sexual assault, sodomy, groping and fondling the captain, having sex in public and abusing his government credit card in pursuit of trysts with the captain. He faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.
On Thursday, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery; inappropriate relationships with two other female officers; attempting an inappropriate relationship with a third; impeding an investigation and viewing pornography in a war zone. He will be sentenced by a jury of five male two-star generals at the conclusion of the court-martial.
The accuser, often weeping and wiping her eyes with a tissue, testified about the tumultuous sexual relationship she says she had with the married general. They had sex in a parked car in Germany, on a hotel balcony in Arizona and in their base offices in the southern Afghan desert, she told the panel.
She tried several times to break things off, she testified, but she was in love with Sinclair and even pursued him at one point after he stopped taking her phone calls. She felt so ashamed and unworthy that she once told Sinclair she was contemplating suicide, she testified.
"I didn’t know how I could tell him I didn’t want to be with him anymore," she said. "I was scared to death of how that would go."
She wanted more from a relationship, she said. "I didn’t want to be a woman on the side, just being used for sex."
The captain testified under a grant of immunity. Adultery is a serious offense in the military.
The general could be rough and demanding, the captain said. After they had sex in a hotel in Tucson, she said, Sinclair slammed her against a door and grabbed her by the throat when she tried to leave.
On another occasion, she said, the general forbade her to have sex with her boyfriend, telling her: "You belong to me."
In Iraq, she said, he told her to urinate in a trash can in his quarters to avoid being seen going outside to a toilet.
The captain struggled to explain why she told no one of the death threats for two years and continued to have sex with Sinclair -- or why she did not immediately report the alleged sexual assaults.
She testified that she had once willingly performed oral sex on the general in her office before the alleged assaults. While receiving oral sex, Sinclair paused three or four times to lean into the hall and speak to other officers in the complex, she said.
Asked whether the earlier oral sex was forced, the captain replied, "No, sir."
Under gentle questioning from the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, the captain said Sinclair was regarded as "a god" in the 82nd Airborne Division. She said she feared "the 82nd would try to cover it up and make it look like I was crazy" if she came forward.
"I felt like there was no hope, sir," she told Stelle. "You don’t make accusations against people in the 82nd.... It was going to be my word against his, and nobody would believe me. I had no way out."
In addition, she said, she feared that Sinclair would find a way to fire her and ruin her career.
"Who was going to believe my word against a one-star general?" she said.
She said she learned during the relationship not to anger Sinclair.
He sexually assaulted her moments after she demanded that he transfer her, she said, telling him, "I couldn’t stand being on the same base as him."
She said she never had sex with him again after that.
"It felt disgusting," she said of the assaults. "It felt like I had no control over my body."
The captain, who is fluent in Arabic, served as Sinclair’s advisor in meetings with Afghan tribal leaders, although she did not speak the local languages, Dari or Pashto. While serving in the same position under Sinclair in Iraq, the defense said, the accuser fought hard to get her job back after she was briefly replaced by a male officer.
The defense described the captain as a woman who told Sinclair in emails how much she enjoyed sex with him, and who continued to exchange texts and emails even after he allegedly groped her, threatened her life and sexually assaulted her.
Defense lawyer Ellen C. Brotman told jurors that the accuser sent messages to the general on the very day in March 2012 that she finally decided to tell Sinclair’s superior officer that they'd had an affair and that Sinclair had assaulted her.
Brotman said a chief warrant officer, who was the first person to whom the accuser revealed the affair, will testify that when he asked the captain if Sinclair had forced her into sex, she told him: No.
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