Attorneys for an Army general charged with sexual assault said Tuesday that they have decided to try to renegotiate a plea bargain with a new set of military officials after the judge determined that the case may have been improperly influenced by political concerns.
Judge Col. James Pohl sent the jury of generals back to their duty stations around the world after the defense's decision.
Pohl had declined to dismiss the charges outright on Monday. But he reviewed newly disclosed emails in Sinclair's case and said he found the appearance of "unlawful command influence" in Fort Bragg officials' decision to reject a plea bargain with the general in January.
The twist came with the Pentagon under heavy pressure from Congress and beyond to combat rape and other sex crimes in the military. On Monday, the Senate approved legislation cracking down on misconduct.
Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications.
But Pohl said the emails showed that the military officials who rejected the plea bargain had discussed a letter from the accuser's lawyer. The letter warned that allowing the general to avoid trial would "send the wrong signal."
Jeffrey Sinclair, the 51-year-old former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex on him in Afghanistan in 2011 during a three-year extramarital affair. He has admitted to the affair but denied assaulting the woman.
He is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges. He could get life in prison if convicted.
The defense has portrayed the woman as a liar who concocted the allegations after she saw emails between Sinclair and another woman.