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FORT BRAGG, N.C. — About a month before a U.S. Army general's trial on sexual assault charges, the lead prosecutor broke down in tears, appearing drunk and suicidal as he told a superior he didn't think the closely watched case should go forward, according to testimony Tuesday.

Lt. Col. William Helixon said he was convinced the accuser had lied about crucial evidence, but thought the case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was of such strategic importance to the military's crackdown on sexual assaults, he felt pressured to pursue it, according to testimony from Brig. Gen. Paul Wilson, who found the prosecutor distraught in a Washington hotel room.

Sinclair faces a court-martial on charges that include physically forcing a female captain under his command to perform oral sex. His attorneys have asked a judge to dismiss the most serious of the charges against him, saying top brass at the Pentagon have unlawfully interfered with prosecutorial decisions in the case, but the judge refused Tuesday.

Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, right, leaves the courthouse with one of his attorneys Ellen Brotman at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. on March 4, 2014.ELLEN OZIER / Reuters

Helixon was removed from the case last month, and a new prosecutor was assigned to take it to trial, which is set to begin this week.

The case against Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial for sexual assault, comes as the Pentagon grapples with a troubling string of revelations involving rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks.

Sinclair is fighting charges that could land him life in a military prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

Wilson testified that the former lead prosecutor became convinced the accuser lied to him when she testified in January about evidence collected from her cellphone. The captain testified that on Dec. 9, shortly after what she described as a contentious meeting with prosecutors, she rediscovered an old iPhone stored in a box at her home that still contained saved text messages and voicemails from the general. After charging the phone, she testified she synced it with her computer to save photos before contacting her attorney.

However, a defense expert's examination suggested the captain powered up the device more than two weeks before the meeting with prosecutors. She also tried to make a call and performed a number of other operations.

—The Associated Press