FORT BRAGG, N.C. — In his blue dress uniform, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair, 51, denies the most serious charges that stem from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex and once threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their affair.
By pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair's lawyers think they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected today.
Asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice, with no emotion: "Yes sir."
Pohl accepted Sinclair's plea after nearly three hours of often intimate questions about the married general's flirtations and dalliances with four women — his mistress and two other military officers, and a civilian.
Sinclair is thought to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial on sexual assault charges.