By Colleen Jenkins
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (Reuters) - An Army general will be accused of forcing a junior officer to perform oral sex, grabbing her genitalia against her will and having intercourse with her in public places when the U.S. government lays out its case against him on Friday.
But Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair's lawyers say he is innocent of any sex crimes and is the focus of a rare court-martial against a top officer because military leaders wanted to look serious about cracking down on sexual violence in the service.
The government targeted the married one-star general despite flimsy evidence based on the word of a female captain who revealed their three-year adulterous affair in a fit of desperation and jealousy, Sinclair's defense says.
"They have the testimony of one person who has been utterly discredited at every turn," said Richard Scheff, a civilian lawyer who serves as Sinclair's lead attorney.
Lawyers will set a roadmap for where the trial is headed when they give opening statements on Friday in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Their audience will be a panel of five two-star generals chosen to decide Sinclair's fate.
Sinclair, 51, a married father of two, faces up to life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge, forcible sodomy.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to lesser offenses that carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and possible dismissal from the Army.
Sinclair admitted to having an extramarital affair with the captain 17 years his junior as well as seeking nude photos from other junior female officers and viewing pornography while he was deployed in Afghanistan. He denies sexually assaulting the captain and says the relationship was consensual, although inappropriate by military standards.
The charges saw him stripped of command in southern Afghanistan in May 2012 and sent home to Fort Bragg, where he remains on active duty.
He was required by the trial judge to provide specifics of his wrongdoing as part of his guilty plea, and more salacious details will likely emerge as the proceedings unfold.
The defense says text messages, some of them sexual in nature, and the captain's journal entries support Sinclair's claim that the relationship was consensual and that the captain pursued him.
Prosecutors, however, say Sinclair used his superior rank to force the woman to stay in the sexual relationship and threatened to harm her if she exposed the affair.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)