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March 7, 2014

Opening statements begin in general's sex trial

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — With the Pentagon under increased scrutiny over revelations of rampant rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks, opening statements began Friday in a rare court-martial of an Army general — believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military to face trial on sex assault charges.

Prosecutors will make their case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, accused of sexually assaulting a captain under his command with whom he had a three-year affair. His defense lawyers portray him as the victim of an overzealous military under intense political pressure to make an example of him.

Sinclair, 51, 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 Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.

Sinclair 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. It will ultimately be up to the judge to determine what, if any, limitations to place on the evidence as the case unfolds.

The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults.

Asked by judge Col. James Pohl Thursday 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.

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