Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty Thursday to having improper relationships with three women but continued to challenge more serious charges.
Sinclair, 51, also pleaded guilty at Fort Bragg, N.C., to having pornography in Afghanistan and to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, The Fayetteville Observer and other media outlets reported.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne admitted to committing adultery with his mistress, an Army captain. But he is fighting five charges, including sexual assault, resulting from allegations he forced her to perform oral sex, sodomized and groped her, had sex in public and threatened to kill her and her family if she revealed their affair.
Opening statements were tentatively schedule for later Thursday or Friday in Sinclair's court martial. The jury will be comprised of five generals.
Sinclair, a one-star general who remains on active duty at Fort Bragg, could face life in prison if convicted on those charges. His accuser, the mistress who was 29 when the three-year relationship began, is posted in Arizona.
Sinclair, who is married with two sons, has said the affair was consensual. His lawyers contend the captain accused him of sexual assault when he tried to end their relationship.
The case against Sinclair comes as the Pentagon grapples with a troubling string of revelations involving rape and sexual misconduct within the ranks. Influential members of Congress are also pushing to remove decisions about the prosecution of sex crimes from the military chain of command.
Lawyers for Sinclair have painted the woman as a scorned lover who only reported the sexual assault allegations after the general refused to leave his wife.
During a pretrial hearing, a top Pentagon lawyer testified that the lead prosecutor assigned to the case for nearly two years, Lt. Col. William Helixon, had urged that the most serious charges against Sinclair be dropped after he became convinced the evidence was too weak. Helixon was overruled by his superiors and then removed from the case last month, after suffering what was described as a profound moral crisis that led to his being taken to a military hospital for a mental health evaluation.
The case now heads to trial with a new lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, who said in court this week he has no interest in what his predecessor thought about the weakness of the evidence.