A disappointing sentence in Sinclair sexual assault trial

Fayetteville ObserverMarch 21, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:

Is that it? Is this how the Army will get tough on sexual misconduct? If it is, the slap on the wrist given to Brig. Gen. Jeff Sinclair on Thursday seems certain to raise anew cries in Congress to shake up the military-justice system.

It didn’t help that Army prosecutors had to watch as their case crumbled amid allegations that the captain who said she was Sinclair’s sexual-assault victim had changed her story, and the defense team found evidence of political meddling.

But even though the most serious charges were dropped, he still acknowledged guilt for 14 violations that involved his principal accuser and three other female soldiers, as well as misuse of a government travel card and obstruction of justice.

For that, Sinclair will have to pay back $4,100 in travel expenses and forfeit $20,000 in pay. But he will be allowed to retire – likely as a lieutenant colonel – and will keep his military benefits, including a pension, albeit probably a diminished one.

The end of a distinguished military career may be punishment by itself, but considering that he could have been jailed for 25 years for the charges on which he was convicted, it’s fair to say he got off easy.

After he was sentenced, Sinclair expressed gratitude that “the system worked.” For him, it did. But it’s not at all clear that the sentence worked for the Army and for soldiers who hoped for a judgment that would have demonstrated behavior like Sinclair’s is no longer acceptable.

In her closing argument, Army prosecutor Maj. Rebecca DiMuro said Sinclair used his power and authority “to exploit female subordinate junior officers.” That was clearly the case.

His lead defense lawyer, Richard Scheff, argued that, “In a civilian court, we wouldn’t be here at all. This would not be a criminal matter, given the conduct.” That’s true. But in any reputable civilian business, a top executive who used his power to prey on the women he supervised would be sacked promptly and might well face civil charges as well.

There was no such resolution at Fort Bragg on Thursday. That is disappointing. And it is sure to lead to more congressional hearings and oversight that Army leaders want badly to move beyond.

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