A Spokane digital forensic investigation firm spent the past 13 months working with attorneys representing Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the Army officer at the center of the most closely watched sexual misconduct court-martial in the U.S. military.
The team from Spokane-based Global Compusearch spent that time scouring and indexing information from nearly 40 phones, tablets or computers used by the general or by his accuser, a 34-year-old Army captain who said she was sexually assaulted by Sinclair while the two were deployed overseas.
She served on his staff during tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The digital information gathered from the assorted phones and computers played a key role in the case’s outcome: An Army judge in North Carolina this week allowed Sinclair, 51, to agree to a plea bargain.
Marcus Lawson, the CEO of Global Compusearch, said the Sinclair case was one of the most demanding his firm has handled in recent years. Among the key findings Global Compusearch provided was proving that the accuser had testified untruthfully at a January hearing about finding an old iPhone that might have contained evidence of the affair.
Lawson testified that the woman’s account of having recently found the phone and turning it on was not true. Her iPhone had been charged and restarted two weeks earlier than she had claimed. The military’s own expert later came to the same conclusion.
“That discovery certainly questioned her credibility,” said Lawson, who testified at that hearing via telephone. Early this month Lawson traveled to Fort Bragg, N.C., and remained there until Friday, prepared to testify in person as the trial progressed.
The January testimony that eroded belief in the woman’s honesty led the former chief prosecutor to quit the case.
Both Lawson and company President Josiah Roloff said the defense team provided the court with messages, communications and emails that showed the general and the woman had an ongoing consensual relationship.
The Army captain accused Sinclair of sexual assault, claiming he forced her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her and her family if she disclosed their affair, which spanned three years.
For much of that time she served as an assistant to Sinclair, tasked with reviewing his incoming email to identify messages needing his attention.
Lawson said the position of Sinclair’s defense team, which included Richard Scheff and Ellen C. Brotman, was the accuser became angry when she found nude photos from other junior female officers emailed to Sinclair.
After the judge reviewed the evidence presented by both sides, he approved an agreement that let Sinclair plead guilty to lesser charges in return for dismissal of more serious sexual assault charges.
Sinclair also pleaded to mistreating the captain, adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, disobeying a commander, possessing pornography in a combat zone and misusing his government credit card.
He’s expected to be demoted to a lower rank and then retire, according to news reports.
The phones, computers and tablets examined included those used by Sinclair, his accuser and two other women he is suspected of having affairs with while deployed. Some of the devices were personal, and others were Army-issued.
Global Compusearch has handled close to 1,000 cases for various U.S. military branches, including the U.S. Coast Guard, over its 14-year history, Roloff said. Those are both for prosecutors and defense teams. Most of its military cases in recent years involve sexual assaults between service members, he added.
Such accusations end up being resolved primarily by retrieving messages, photos and voice mails off the phones of an accuser or defendant, he said.
In the Sinclair case, hundreds of the texts, emails and communications had been deleted but could be recovered using standard digital tools, Roloff said.
Roloff was the primary examiner assigned to examine the old iPhone owned by the accuser at the center of the pivotal January court hearing, he added.
Roloff said his professional role is being a neutral gatherer of information. Even so, he said he found himself thinking the assault charges leveled at Sinclair were not supported by the evidence he and his team had pulled from the devices.
“That was just my personal reaction,” Roloff said, adding he found the judge’s approval of the plea bargain a proper ending to a complicated and difficult case.
“The judge did a good job of looking at all the evidence and making a fair decision,” Roloff said.
Sinclair was the third Army general facing court-martial in the past 60 years. He had been the deputy American commander in southern Afghanistan when the accusations first emerged two years ago.
The demands of the Sinclair case at times disrupted other work being handled by his staff at the office in Spokane, Lawson said.
“We sometimes had motion hearings that were due, or an issue like the iPhone arose, and we had to drop everything else to deal with it,” said Lawson.