FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Bringing an end to a closely watched military sexual misconduct trial, a judge on Thursday reprimanded Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair for, among other offenses, mistreating an Army captain who was his mistress, but did not sentence him to jail time and allowed him to remain in the military.
Sinclair was also ordered to forfeit $5,000 a month in pay for four months, but will be allowed to keep his pension and other benefits.
The decision by the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, was a sweeping victory for the defense: A plea agreement reached by Sinclair’s lawyers and military prosecutors this week called for capping prison time at 18 months and did not ensure that he could keep his pension.
It was also a stinging defeat for the Army, whose case started coming apart after prosecutors concluded that the captain might have lied at a January pretrial hearing. The case then collapsed last week when Pohl found that political considerations might have improperly influenced the prosecution.
As a result of that finding, defense lawyers and prosecutors reached an agreement this week in which Sinclair pleaded guilty to lesser offenses in exchange for dismissal of much more serious sexual assault charges, which could have carried a life sentence if proved. In addition to admitting to mistreating the captain, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, disobeying a commander, possessing pornography in a combat zone and misusing his government credit card.
Sinclair, 51, hugged his lawyers after the sentencing. Though clearly elated, he said little as he left the courthouse, describing the last two years as “a very difficult time for me and my family.”
“The system worked,” he said, adding that he was going to go “hug my kids and see my wife.”
Jamie Barnett, a lawyer for the captain, condemned the sentence as “a travesty” and likened it to “getting sent to the principal’s office for a stern talking to.”
“Now the Army has to face the reality that this is likely to happen again, and victims will be less likely to come forward,” he said.
The sentence, indeed the case, set off a sharp debate, including in the military, over whether the Pentagon needs to revamp the way it prosecutes sexual assault and other serious crimes, as many lawmakers contend. “This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said in a statement.