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June 24, 2017

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US Army general fined, reprimanded in sex case

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (AP) — An U.S. Army general who had a three-year affair with a captain and had two other inappropriate relationships with subordinates was reprimanded and docked $20,000 in pay Thursday, avoiding prison time in one of the U.S. military's most closely watched trials in recent memory.

Legal experts, a women's group and members of Congress condemned the sentence as shockingly light. The case has played out as the U.S. military has been rocked by reports of rampant sexual abuse among its ranks.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges, but earlier this week those charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to inappropriate relationships.

Sinclair, 51, smiled and hugged his two lawyers in the courtroom.

"The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army," he said afterward. "All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife."

The case unfolded with the Pentagon under heavy pressure to confront what it has called an epidemic of rape and other sexual misconduct in the ranks.

Retired Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, a lawyer who helped represent the captain, said the woman was disappointed with the sentence.

"A sentence doesn't take away any of the pain and anguish that she has endured," Barnett said.

The Associated Press generally does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted.

The case started to crumble as Sinclair's lawyers hammered away at the woman's credibility and raised questions about whether Sinclair's commander improperly pressed ahead with a trial because of political considerations — namely, a desire to show the Army's resolve to combat sexual misconduct.

Earlier this year, the lead prosecutor came to believe the woman lied under oath at a pre-trial hearing about when she found an old iPhone containing messages between her and the general. Within weeks, the prosecutor was found drunk and suicidal in a Washington hotel, distraught over a superior's refusal to drop the sexual assault charges, according to testimony. He was later removed from the case.

As part of the plea deal, Sinclair's sentence could not exceed terms in an agreement between defense lawyers and military attorneys that called for Sinclair to serve no more than 18 months in jail, but the judge's punishment was much lighter.

The judge did not explain specifically how he came to the sentence, and prosecutors did not immediately comment.

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