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Jury selection begins in Army 1-star's sex assault case

Jul. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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As jury selection began Tuesday in the case of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who is accused of forcible sodomy, attorneys focused on whether potential jurors would be biased by the military’s widespread sexual assault and harassment prevention efforts and leadership directives.

A dozen generals from around the country are facing questions as potential jurors in Sinclair’s court-martial, set to begin Sept. 30. The panel of potential jurors, which includes five lieutenant generals and seven major generals, is expected to face questions over the next several days.

The attorneys must end with a minimum of five members for the panel.

Jurors must be senior to Sinclair, a one-star general and the former deputy commanding general for support of Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division.

The jurors collectively faced questions from attorneys as part of the voir dire process. After that initial screening, attorneys began to question them individually, including Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, deputy commander of Army Materiel Command; Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander of Third Army/Army Central; Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center; Lt. Gen. David Halverson, deputy commander of Training and Doctrine Command, and Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commander of the U.S. Army War College.

The potential jurors said they worked with each other in either superior or subordinate roles. They all said they would not be biased by these command relationships.

“I don’t see us having rank here as part of the jury pool,” Halverson said, under questioning by defense attorney Richard Scheff.

Five of the jurors said they knew Sinclair and one said they know Sinclair’s accuser, an Army captain who served with him.

Three jurors said they had reason not to serve on the jury. The judge, Col. James Pohl, indicated he would not immediately excuse potential jurors as the proceedings continue.

Both sides agreed to excuse one potential juror for cause, Terry, after he said in court that he was “good friends” with potential witness Lt. Gen. James L. Huggins and might give his testimony more weight. Terry said he became involved in the Sinclair case last year in Afghanistan after Huggins intimated the investigation agains Sinclair and that he knows Sinclair’s accuser.

Cucolo said he could be an unbiased juror but that his presence on the jury might attract undue controversy.

In 2009 in Iraq, Cucolo issued a general order that prohibited deployed soldiers under his command from becoming pregnant or impregnating one another; he said Congress has since delayed his advancement twice in response.

McQuistion was not one of the three who had reason not to serve, but she presented a possible problem when she said one of the potential witnesses, Capt. Monique Miles, was formerly her aide-de-camp. She said she would not give any greater weight to Miles’ testimony or that of other witnesses with whom she had a professional relationship.

In response to a question from prosecutor Lt. Col. Will Helixon, McQuistion said that a female relative of hers was allegedly raped 20 years ago. McQuistion said she learned about the attack 15 years ago, it was not reported and the alleged attacker was someone the relative knew.

Scheff asked McQuistion whether there is a conflict for commanders, between promoting sexual assault prevention and trying alleged misconduct.

“You do separate it in your head, at least I do in my head,” she said.

Other questions from attorneys focused on whether the potential jurors would be prejudiced by their exposure to media reports of the case, with sexual assault and harassment prevention training, or statements by senior military leaders — even President Obama.

Obama’s recent statements on sexual assault in the military have complicated other courts-martial, according to published reports. In May, Obama said, “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Scheff also asked Halverson whether he feared the outcome of the case would have an effect in Congress, which recently considered plans to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. Scheff asked others a similar question.

“This will be just one datapoint and it will not sway them one way or another,” Halverson said.

Attorneys asked potential jurors about their response to watching a military sexual assault documentary, “The Invisible War.”

Walker said he felt “shock and embarrassment” after the film.

“We need to do better about identifying predators in our organizations,” he said. “We have folks who are predators, who know how the system works, and they’re hard to find.”

Helixon questioned potential jurors whether they were aware of a string of recent embarrassing cases over the past year, including Air Force commanders who granted clemency to two officers convicted of sexual assault.

Helixon also also asked whether they were aware that Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, nominated by Obama to become vice commander of the Air Force Space Command, was held up by questions about clemency Helms granted in a sexual-assault case — and whether they feared their decision in this case might impact their chances of promotion.

“I have no fear,” Halverson said. “I think you’re assuming I’m up for something else, and I have no expectations that I’m going through another nomination process.”

Sinclair formally pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, which include forcible sodomy, failing to obey an order, maltreatment, conduct unbecoming an officer, obstructing justice, adultery and other charges.

The 27-year Army veteran could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the most serious offenses.

The female captain at the heart of the case has said she carried on a three-year sexual relationship with Sinclair, a married father of two. Adultery is a crime under military law.

She testified at the evidentiary hearing that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair with Sinclair, who she says threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.

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