The sex scandal that brought much of the military world to a screeching halt will soon be news no more; Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair has officially been sentenced.
Sinclair's sentence, however, is news in and of itself; in a move that shocked the defense team itself, the judge sentenced Sinclair to no jail time but rather to the forfeiture of $20,000 in salary and restitution fees of $4,146 for misusing his authority. Not only will Sinclair be allowed to retire but he will also receive pension and benefits.
Sinclair, 51, found himself in the midst of a media whirlwind alongside a female Army captain with whom he engaged in a three-year extra-marital affair. The heavily publicized court martial that followed shed national light on the hot button issue of military sexual assault and the role that senior commanders play or do not play in the process. The sentence has proven to be just as newsworthy as the trial itself.
Reform advocates, for example, outraged by Sinclair's sentence, argue that its so-called lightness evidences the military's bias for senior commanders. Sinclair's defense team, however, believes that the sentence reflects the alleged lack of creditability of the female subordinate who accused Sinclair of forcing her to perform sexual favors and threatening to kill her and her family if she disclosed their affair to his wife.
The defense also emphasized the difficulty in discerning consensual sex from rape. While Sinclair testified that the affair was consensual, advocacy groups, however, maintain that sexual contact between a senior commander and a subordinate can never be 'consensual' due to the commander's absolute authority.
Echoing this sentiment, retired Adm. Jamie Barnett, a lawyer for the complainant, argues that such a relationship constitutes "sexual abuse from the beginning". In light of this, Barnett deemed the sentence "beyond disappointing", calling it "a travesty and serious misstep for the Army." Rep. Jackie Speier labeled the sentence "a mockery of military justice, a slap on the wrist nowhere close to being proportional to Sinclair's offenses."
The Sinclair verdict was celebrated, however, by some. Lead defense counsel Richard L. Scheff reportedly appeared shocked by the sentence's announcement, but then exchanged congratulatory handshakes and hugs with other members of Sinclair's defense team.
Sinclair himself partook in the celebration as well, hugging colleagues before issuing a statement outside of the courthouse. "The system worked — I've always been proud of my Army," Sinclair pronounced. "All I want to do now ... is hug my kids and see my wife."
Sinclair's wife, Rebecca, had issued a statement to the court the day preceding the sentence, asking the judge to spare the couple's two sons, 10 and 12, from revocation of Sinclair's pay and benefits. She referred to their sons as "the only truly innocent victims" of the case.
Sinclair had originally faced life in prison if convicted on the original charges of sexual assault, sodomy and threatening to kill his lover. After entering guilty pleas on lesser charges, however, he faced up to 25 years in prison, before prosecutors agreed to cap the sentence at 18 months.