A court-martial for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair has been postponed for a third time. It had been scheduled to begin Jan. 7 at Fort Bragg, N.C. (AP / Andrew Craft)
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A court-martial for a U.S. Army general facing sexual assault charges has been postponed for a third time.
The trial for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was scheduled to begin at Fort Bragg on Jan. 7. In a news release Thursday, the Army said military Judge Col. James Pohl has rescheduled the court-martial to begin March 3 so prosecutors and defense lawyers can complete further pre-trial discovery.
The discovery evidence centers on a collection of four mobile phones that belong to Sinclair’s main accuser, which she recently reported to her attorney, according to Pohl’s Dec. 15 ruling to allow the continuance. One of these, an iPhone, contains voice mails from Sinclair and text messages between Sinclair and the woman.
On Dec. 10, Sinclair’s accuser, “advised the government that she had stored the phone in a box in her home in Ft. Bragg sometime before her deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 ... At least four other cell phones are depicted as having been contained in the same box,” the continuance reads.
The prosecutor advised the defense that upon discovering the phones, rather than turning them over to Army Criminal Investigation Command immediately, the accuser “charged the iPhone, turned it on, and connected it to her computer; thereby, potentially changing evidence on the phone itself, including metadata, and possibly either inadvertently or intentionally deleting evidence,” the continuance reads.
“Obviously, these devices should either have been seized or disclosed 20 months ago,” said Sinclair’s attorney, Richard Scheff. “That this disclosure comes on the very eve of trial is a remarkable development and raises significant questions that the defense wants answers to. We’re very grateful to the prosecution and [Pohl] for the fair and even-handed way in which they have handled this revelation.”
Other text message exchanges in evidence between Sinclair and the woman, a former subordinate in the 82nd Airborne Division with whom he was having a three-year affair, have been central to the case.
The Sinclair’s attorneys and the prosecution agree the general and his subordinate carried on an affair, though defense attorneys argue the steamy text messages — including one in which she referred to him as “papa panda sexy pants” — indicate the relationship was consensual. Prosecutors also allege Sinclair also forced the woman to perform oral sex on him.
Pohl has ordered the woman to attend a a hearing for Jan. 7 to present the phones and respond to questions. The defense is expected to question the woman about whether she concealed the phone or tampered with it.
The 51-year-old Sinclair, who previously served as the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is believed to be the highest-ranking officer to face a sexual assault charge in the Army’s 238-year history.
He has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal counts, including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer. Sinclair faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report