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Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson leaves the courthouse after testifying in pretrial motions in the case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair at Fort Bragg, N.C., on March 4. / James Robinson. The Fayetteville Observer via AP

A military judge declined to throw out a sexual assault case against Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair Monday despite ruling that an earlier prosecution decision to seek a trial was tainted by political considerations.

Defense lawyers were allowed the option of re-submitting a four-month-old offer to plea-bargain the case -- one that had been previously rejected by an Army commander -- for review by a different Army commander.

The lead defense attorney, Richard Scheff, issued a statement calling the situation "a mess entirely of the government's making."

The trial at the Army's Fort Bragg, N.C., unfolds as the military wrestles with growing numbers of sexual assault cases and how to address the problem. Sinclair is believed to be the highest ranking U.S. military officer to ever face trial for sexual assault.

Sinclair had offered in December to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for the Army dropping allegations of sexual assault on a female Army captain while both were serving in Afghanistan in 2011.

Sinclair's lawyers had argued Monday that the case should be thrown out because it was tainted by political influence.

Defense lawyers argued that e-mails they received from the prosecution in a request for discovery documents -- and that arrived only last weekend -- raised questions about the decision to proceed to trial.

The defense lawyers raised several issues based on the e-mails.

Defense lawyers said Pohl focused, in his decision Monday about undue influence, on a letter sent by an advocate for the alleged victim to then-Fort Bragg commander, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson. It was Anderson who would ultimately decide to reject Sinclair's plea bargain offer and send the case to trial.

In that Dec. 17 letter by the advocate, Capt. Cassie Fowler, Anderson is urged to reject Sinclair's plea bargain offer.

Accepting it "would only strengthen the arguments of those individuals that believe the prosecution of sexual assault should be taken away from the Army... (It) would send the wrong signal to those senior commanders who would prey on their subordinates," the letter says.

At the time the letter was sent, Congress was considering a law proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., aimed at removing decisions about sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. That legislation, opposed by the Pentagon, was narrowly defeated in the Senate last week.

Anderson, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan, testified by telephone Monday that he was not influenced by the letter.

Another argument raised by the defense Monday involved communications between a prosecutor in the case, Lt. Col. James Bagwell, a deputy staff advocate at Fort Bragg, and Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson, an Army assistant judge advocate general in Washington, D.C.

"I was wondering if I (could) get your thoughts/opinions on the latest attached (plea bargain)," Bagwell wrote to Wilson.

Bagwell at the time was advising the then-commander at Fort Bragg, Lt. Gen. James Anderson, whether to accept Sinclair's plea bargain rather than go to trial.,

Wilson was not in the chain of command for the decision to proceed to trial. It is unlawful for officers outside that decision-making process to interfere.

Bagwell testified Monday that he later spoke with Wilson but was not directed what to do, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Pohl reacted angrily Monday over the eleventh-hour disclosure of the e-mails by the prosecution, saying that they "dribble discovery" to the defense, according to an account in the Los Angeles Times.

Early Monday, he dismissed the jury for the day and took testimony about the undue-influence issue raised by the defense.

Trial proceedings were suspended Monday just as Sinclair's alleged victim was about to undergo cross-examination.

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 case.

Contributing: Associated Press



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: Judge doesn't toss sexual assault charge against general

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