FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — In his immaculate blue dress uniform, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the U.S. Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair, 51, still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex. But by pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair's lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected Friday.
Asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice, with no emotion: "Yes sir."
Pohl accepted Sinclair's plea after nearly three hours of often intimate questions about the married general's flirtations and dalliances with four women — three military officers and one civilian.
Repeatedly, Sinclair turned to his lawyer before answering, prompting the judge to say: "It's important that you tell me the truth as you recall it."
"You'll get nothing but the truth from me," the general replied.
The case against Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial on sexual assault charges, comes as the Pentagon grapples with revelations of rampant rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks. The U.S. Senate on Thursday blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute rapes and other serious offenses in the ranks. The bill was firmly opposed by the Pentagon.