The military’s most closely watched sexual misconduct prosecution has been thrown into turmoil after the Army’s lead prosecutor abruptly left the case this week, less than a month before the scheduled court-martial of Brigadier General Jeffrey A. Sinclair on sexual assault charges.
The departure of the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel William Helixon, came just days after defense lawyers said in interviews that the colonel told them that he had come to think that a jury would not believe the testimony of the prosecution’s chief witness, a 34-year-old captain.
Sinclair, 51, who was recalled in 2012 from his job as deputy commander of US forces in southern Afghanistan, has acknowledged a three-year affair with the witness, a military intelligence officer who had worked for him. But he has denied her accusation that on two occasions he forced her into oral sex and threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about the affair.
Sinclair faces additional counts of misconduct based on the testimony of other prosecution witnesses, including accusations that he pressured a female subordinate to send him naked photographs of herself, in a case that has become a lightning rod for critics who say the military has played down sexual assault in the ranks.
Major Crystal Boring, a spokeswoman at Fort Bragg, N.C., said in an e-mail that Helixon voluntarily left the case for “personal reasons.” The general was a commander with the 82d Airborne Division before being placed on limited duty because of the criminal investigation.
For several days, the Times had been putting questions to Army officials at Fort Bragg and the Pentagon about what defense lawyers described as Helixon’s misgivings about the case and his efforts to persuade superiors to drop the most serious charges.
According to the defense, Helixon also disclosed that he believed the captain had not told the truth during testimony at a pretrial hearing last month.
It was impossible to confirm the defense team’s description of conversations with Helixon, who did not respond this week to e-mails or to messages left at his office and on his wife’s cellphone. Army officials at the Pentagon declined to comment.
Boring declined to discuss other aspects of the case or whether the military would seek to delay the court-martial, scheduled for early March. She said prosecutors would “continue to pursue resolution of these charges,” and asserted that personnel changes were common in lengthy cases.