FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — The closely watched sex assault trial for an Army general is finally set, but it will unfold with lingering questions about the accuser's credibility and without the prosecutor who led the case for nearly two years.
The prosecutor, Lt. Col. William Helixon, had urged that the most serious charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair be dropped because they rely solely on the woman's accusation that he twice forced her to perform oral sex and he believes she lied under oath about crucial evidence in the case.
But those above the seasoned sex crimes prosecutor overrode him, rebuffing an offer from Sinclair to plead guilty to lesser charges.
It is extremely rare for such a high-ranking military officer to face a jury. Under the military justice system, members of the panel must be senior in rank to the accused — ensuring that Sinclair will be judged by a jury of generals.
That jury was expected to be seated in a courtroom at Fort Bragg on Wednesday. Opening statements were set for Thursday.
Helixon was replaced last month after he broke down in tears over the case and a superior officer took him to a military hospital for a mental health evaluation, according to testimony.
Sinclair's defense lawyers allege the top brass moved forward because they were worried about the political fallout that would result if the charges were dropped.
Following a daylong hearing Tuesday, a judge ruled the case should go to trial.
"No offense to Lt. Col. Helixon, but I don't care what he thinks and neither should the court," Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, who replaced Helixon as lead prosecutor, told the judge.
Sinclair's lawyer suggested that the Army was sacrificing Helixon's career and reputation to pursue a flawed case.