Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair leaves a Fort Bragg, N.C., courthouse this year. His trial on sex-related charges has been delayed. (Andrew Craft/Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer via AP)
RALEIGH, N.C. — The trial of an Army general facing charges he sexually assaulted a female subordinate has been delayed indefinitely.
A court-martial for Brig. Gen. Jeffery A. Sinclair had been scheduled to begin Tuesday. Officials at Fort Bragg announced Thursday that the process of selecting a jury will begin next week, but that opening statements, testimony and the other elements are on hold.
The judge overseeing the case has not yet set a new date for the trial to begin.
The prosecution sought the delay because of concern that selecting an impartial jury could be a lengthy and challenging process. Under the military justice system, the guilt or innocence of a defendant is judged by those of higher rank. In this case, that means generals with two stars and above — a relatively small jury pool in which Sinclair would personally know many of those who qualify.
The general court-martial convening authority was considering a jury pool of 47 generals, which was whittled down to 26 by Thursday morning, according to a source close to the case. Jurors may be excused for work commitments, scheduled leave or due to a connection with Sinclair — essentially anything that would logistically complicate the case or call into question their impartiality.
Attorneys may question potential jurors during the voir dire process set to begin next week and are allowed one pre-emptory challenge and may eliminate an unlimited number of them for cause.
However, the attorneys must end with a minimum of five for the panel, according to Ben Abel, a Fort Bragg spokesman. On Tuesday morning, the plan is to have 12 potential jurors at the start of the questions.
It’s rare for an Army general to face court-martial. There have been only two cases in recent years.
A 27-year Army veteran, Sinclair faces charges that include forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery. He has thus far deferred entering a plea. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on the most serious offenses.
The female captain at the heart of the case said she carried on a three-year sexual relationship with Sinclair, a married father of two. Adultery is a crime under military law.
She testified at the evidentiary hearing that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair with Sinclair, who she says threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.
The woman said she usually wanted to have sex with the general, though she said that on two occasions he exposed himself and physically forced her to perform oral sex, even as she sobbed.
The Associated Press does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also testified that they had given the general nude photos at his request.
Sinclair’s defense attorneys claim his primary accuser is a scorned lover seeking revenge and have questioned in court whether the general can receive a fair trial under the military justice system.
The military’s credibility has been stung by a series of embarrassing admissions involving sexual misconduct. President Obama, members of Congress and top Pentagon brass have issued recent assurances that sexual assault cases will be aggressively prosecuted and the perpetrators punished, statements the defense claims will put improper pressure on a jury of generals to make an example of Sinclair.
“Given the current climate, it’s going to be challenging to find the right number of people, at the right rank, who are willing to put their careers on the line,” Rich Scheff, Sinclair’s lead civilian lawyer, said Thursday. “We look forward to moving forward, on whatever schedule the judge stipulates, whether the prosecution feels ready or not.”
Army Times Staff Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this report.