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General's court-martial is thrown into jeopardy

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 7:27 p.m.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The sexual assault case against an Army general was thrown into jeopardy on Monday when the judge said the military may have improperly pressed ahead with a trial to send a message about its determination to curb rape and other widespread misconduct.

The judge, Col. James Pohl, refused to dismiss the charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair but offered the defense another chance to plea-bargain the case with a set of military officials not previously involved with the case.

The judge reviewed newly disclosed emails in Sinclair's case and said he found the appearance of “unlawful command influence” in Fort Bragg officials' decision to reject a plea bargain with the general in January.

Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.

Pohl said the emails showed that the military officials who rejected the plea bargain had discussed a letter from the accuser's lawyer. The letter warned that allowing the general to avoid trial would “send the wrong signal.”

Sinclair's attorneys have until Tuesday morning to decide whether to submit a plea-bargain proposal again or proceed with the court-martial, which began last week.

Sinclair, the 51-year-old former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex on him in Afghanistan in 2011 during a three-year extramarital affair. He has admitted to the affair but denied assaulting the woman.

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