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Defense witnesses praise general; skit lampooned affair

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An Army general awaiting sentencing for inappropriate relationships with three subordinates was praised Tuesday by more than a dozen defense witnesses as a smart, inspirational leader who cared for his soldiers.

But prosecutors had one more reminder that Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair did not have all his soldiers’ best interests in mind. A witness testified about a bawdy skit at a 2010 Army party that included dressed-up soldiers mocking the rampant rumors that the general was having an affair with a captain under his command.

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Sinclair, 51, could learn his fate Wednesday as his sentencing hearing wraps up, though it is not clear whether the judge will rule immediately. Sinclair faces a maximum of 21½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will probably face far less jail time and might not be sent behind bars at all.

The general admitted he mistreated the captain and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery, which is a crime in the military, as well as using his government-issued credit card to pay for improper trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.

The general had been accused of twice forcing the female captain under his command to perform oral sex during the three-year extramarital affair, but assault charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Defense lawyers spent Tuesday focusing on the 27-year Army career that took Sinclair from the small West Virginia town where he grew up poor to a position leading thousands as deputy commander of the 82d Airborne. They called his brother, his ROTC commander from college, a military wife whose husband served alongside him for years, and a soldier who said Sinclair was the only person who believed he had something to contribute to the Army after he hurt his back.

Most had extensive praise for Sinclair, including retired Chief Warrant Officer Eric Lee, who testified by phone from Chile. He met Sinclair when both were Rangers in 1994.

Asked if he would follow the general into combat if he were deployed again, he said: ‘‘I’d be on the next plane out.’’

Prosecutors countered by asking each witness if a truly inspirational and talented officer would solicit nude photos from subordinates — behavior Sinclair admitted to.

They called two final witnesses in the morning, including Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bigelow. He talked about a 2010 party in Germany that included a sexually suggestive skit involving soldiers dressed up as Sinclair and the captain who was his primary accuser.

During the skit, the character in the wig ‘‘moved in front of the Sinclair character’s crotch and offered to do something for him,’’ Bigelow said. ‘‘There was absolutely no question.’’

Bigelow said Sinclair’s wife was ‘‘clearly shocked, angered, and dismayed.’’ He said the accuser was not at the party.

Sinclair’s lawyer pointed out he had nothing to do with the skit and demanded an apology.

The Army’s case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether his primary accuser had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Judge Colonel James Pohl said the military might have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a message about curbing rape.

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