By Kelly Twedell
FORT BRAGG, N.C., March 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. Army general who admitted to inappropriate relationships with several junior officers, including one he pleaded guilty to mistreating during an adulterous sexual affair, will argue on Tuesday against serving jail time for his military crimes.
Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair's defense team planned to call about 20 witnesses to testify on his behalf at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Many of them served with Sinclair during his 27-year career, which has included five combat tours.
"They will paint him as the war hero is," lead defense attorney Richard Scheff said.
Scheff said the military judge who will sentence Sinclair also will be read a letter written by the general's wife, who has not attended her husband's trial.
Sinclair, 51, a father of two, avoided a possible life term in prison in a plea deal accepted on Monday that dismissed sexual assault charges he faced after a female Army captain under his command said he forced her to perform oral sex when she tried to end their illicit affair.
Charges that he had sex with her in a parking lot in Germany and on a hotel balcony in Arizona, and that he threatened to kill her if she exposed the relationship, also were dropped.
But the one-star general's admissions that he asked junior female officers for nude photos, possessed pornography on his laptop while deployed in Afghanistan, misused his government credit card to pursue the affair and referred to female officers with demeaning names could still land him in prison.
Sinclair's defense lawyers have argued the general should be allowed to retire at a reduced rank, saying his rare court-martial of a top officer was the result of political pressure on U.S. military leaders to show they were taking a tough stance against rising sexual violence in the armed forces.
The general's main accuser gave tearful testimony about their volatile three-year affair that spanned two war zones and posts in the United States, but the trial was halted last week before the defense had a chance to cross-examine her account, which they decried as untrue.
The military judge delayed the court-martial and allowed Sinclair to renew his plea offer after ruling that politics appeared to have improperly influenced the Army's decision to reject an earlier offer by the general to plead guilty if the charges of coercive sex acts were dropped.
Sinclair, who maintained he never forced sex, admitted as part of the plea agreement to causing the captain emotional harm. The captain's attorneys said in a statement that she accepted the plea bargain but stood by her allegations of sexual assault. (Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Tom Brown)