FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — A military judge declined Monday to dismiss sexual assault charges against an Army general after reviewing what he said was evidence that political considerations influenced the military's handling of the case.
Judge Col. James Pohl reviewed newly disclosed emails and said he found evidence of unlawful command influence in Fort Bragg officials' decision to reject a plea deal before the trial. Under military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely based on evidence in the case — and not its broader political implications in a military grappling with sexual assault cases.
Pohl gave the defense team the choice of having a different commanding general and prosecutors consider the rejected plea deal. The defense has until Tuesday morning to decide whether to accept the offer or allow the trial to proceed.
Before the trial, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair had offered to plead guilty to some of the lesser charges in exchange for the Army dropping the sexual assault charges, but he was turned down.
A key issue is whether the rejection was influenced by concerns about the message it would send across the military. A letter by Sinclair's primary accuser that raised such concerns was discussed in emails between a high-ranking Washington-based Army lawyer, the prosecutors and the commanding general overseeing the case.
Pohl said he doesn't think the whole case was tainted, just decision on plea agreement.
"The remedy must be tailored to the wrong," he said in explaining his offer to the defense.
Pohl also criticized prosecutors for not giving defense lawyers the emails sooner.
"The only reason we are in this conundrum is because of the government's late notice," Pohl said.
Last week, Sinclair pleaded guilty to three lesser charges involving adultery with the captain and improper relationships with two female Army officers. Adultery is a crime in the military. A trial then began on the remaining sexual assault charges.