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Jury selection continues for 1-star's sex assault trial

Jul. 17, 2013 - 07:56AM   |  
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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — As the second day of jury selection begins Wednesday in the case of an Army one-star accused of sexual assault, defense attorneys say they will attempt to disqualify potential jurors who have a connection to the general, to witnesses or who have significant sexual assault prevention roles.

“They’re the ones who are responsible for carrying out the policy for eradicating sexual assault in the military, so I think it’s a tremendous challenge to get a group of people at this level to be fair and impartial,” attorney Rich Scheff, who represents Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, told reporters. “I think it’s a conflict of interest.”

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

All jurors must be senior to Sinclair, the former deputy commanding general for support of Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division. The final panel must include at least five members.

“There’s never been a panel like this — that’s what I’ve been told,” Scheff said.

There are 14 additional potential jurors waiting if the attorneys arrive at fewer than five after questioning this first panel of 12. If for some reason the court runs out of potential jurors, it has a process for calling more.

Sinclair, a 27-year Army veteran, faces charges that include forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and adultery. He formally pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday.

He 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 an 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.

On Tuesday, potential jurors faced questions collectively as part of the voir dire process. The initial screening focused on the impact on them of statements by senior military leaders, members of Congress and the president about sexual assault and harassment prevention in the military — and whether those statements would bias them.

“How, if your career is subject to senior leadership, the president of the United States and Congress, and how — if you are responsible for eradicating this terrible thing from the military — can you claim you can take all that, put it out of your mind and be fair and impartial to somebody when the pressure is enormous to come up with an adverse result,” Scheff asked as he spoke to reporters.

Five of the potential jurors said they know Sinclair. Many of them indicated they had professional relationships with potential witnesses in the case, and several had superior or subordinate relationships with one another.

Scheff intends to argue that some of those relationships between potential jurors andwitnesses should be disqualifying.

“Certainly, if you know people who are significant witnesses in the case, and you have relationships with them and you know them, you respect them personally and you believe they’re honorable, they’re credible, how do you evaluate their testimony,” the attorney asked while speaking to reporters.

Attorneys and the judge, Col. James Pohl, questioned Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Third Army/Army Central; Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commander of the U.S. Army War College; Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center; Lt. Gen. David Halverson, deputy commander of Training and Doctrine Command; Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, deputy commander of Army Materiel Command; and Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, director of Command, Control, Communications and Computers/Cyber.

On Tuesday, both sides agreed to eliminate Terry, who was one of three jurors who indicated they had reason not to serve. Terry said he considered one potential witness, Lt. Gen. James L. Huggins, a close friend. Terry also said he was involved in the Sinclair case last year in Afghanistan after Huggins initiated the investigation.

McQuistion was not one of the three who indicated they had reason not to serve, but she said in court that one of the potential witnesses was formerly her aide-de-camp. She said she would not give any greater weight to the former aide’s testimony or to that of other witnesses with whom she had a professional relationship.

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