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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A U.S. Army general accused of sexual assault was set to plead guilty to three lesser charges Thursday in a move that his lawyer says will strengthen his position going into trial.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair plans to enter the plea before opening statements scheduled for the morning in his court martial at Fort Bragg. The primary accuser in the case is a female captain who claims Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair.
Sinclair still faces five charges including sexual assault in his trial before a jury of five two-star generals. The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.
Sinclair's lawyer Richard Scheff said the general will plead guilty to having improper relationships with two other female Army officers and to committing adultery with his mistress, which is a crime in the military. He will also admit violating orders by possessing pornography in Afghanistan and to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.
Scheff said in an interview that his client is taking responsibility for his actions, but also strengthening his legal position. The general had previously entered pleas of not guilty to all eight charges.
By admitting guilt on the three charges for which there is the strongest evidence, the married father of two narrows the focus of the upcoming trial to charges that rely heavily on the testimony and credibility of his former mistress.
"The government now has a big problem," Scheff said in an email. "It took pathetically weak assault charges and put a fancy wrapper around them. We just tore the wrapper off. The prosecution team no longer gets to distract us with salacious details about acts that aren't even criminal in the civilian world. All they're left with is a crime that never happened, a witness who committed perjury, and a pile of text messages and journal entries that disprove their claim."
The case against Sinclair, believed to be the most senior member of the U.S. military ever to face trial on sexual assault charges, 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.
The defense will present evidence at trial that the female captain lied under oath during a pretrial hearing in January about her handling of old iPhone containing messages between her and the general. 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.
The Associated Press generally does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted.
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.
Three additional experts verified those findings.
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 captain had lied to him about the cell phone. 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 doesn't care what his predecessor thought about the weakness of the evidence.
It is highly unusual for an officer of flag rank to face criminal prosecution, with only a handful of cases in recent decades. Under military law, an officer can only be judged at trial by those of superior rank - ensuring that Sinclair's jury will be comprised of five major generals.
Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at WWW.TWITTER.COM/MBIESECK .
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A new survey of the nation's college freshmen has found that the percentage attending their first-choice school has reached its lowest level in almost four decades, as cost and the availability of financial aid have come to play an influential role in decisions of where to enroll.
The annual survey released Wednesday, conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, found that while more than three-quarters of those who started college last fall were admitted to the school they most wanted to attend, only 57 percent ended up going to their top school. That was the lowest rate in the 39 years that the institute has asked first-time freshmen if they enrolled at their dream college.
Kevin Eagan, the institute's interim managing director and an assistant professor at UCLA, said the cost of attending college appears to be largely responsible for the decline. A record 46 percent of students reported that cost was a very important factor in where they ended up, compared with 31 percent nine years ago. Meanwhile, the share of respondents who said being offered financial aid was a crucial factor in the decision to enroll at their current campus reached 49 percent - an all-time high.
"The difficult financial decisions that students and their families have to make about college are becoming more evidence," Eagan said. "Colleges that can reduce net costs to families are gaining an edge in attracting students."
Although many colleges are turning to online courses as a way to reduce costs and the time it takes to earn a degree, the survey showed that the idea was not very popular with students. Fewer than 7 percent indicated there was a very good chance they would take an online course offered by their college. The percentage was twice as high, however, among students at historically black colleges and universities.
Other key findings:
- A career in business remained the top post-college path among first-time freshmen, with 13 percent expressing interest in pursuing a career as an entrepreneur, accountant, executive, manager, consultant or administrative assistant or in the fields of human resources, sales and marketing, finance, real estate and sports management. Ten percent said they want to be doctors; 7 percent engineers; 5 percent classroom teachers; 4 percent actors, artists and musicians; and 3 percent lawyers or judges.
- More students think that peers who entered the United States illegally as children should have the right to a public education. This year, 41 percent agreed with the statement that such immigrants should be denied an education, a drop of 16 percentage points since 1996, when the institute first included the question in the survey in 1996.
- Freshmen students also showed strong support for gay men and lesbians who want to adopt children. More than 83 percent said they think gay people should have the right to adopt.
- While college campuses are often thought to be hotbeds of radical politics, only 3 percent of the survey respondents described their political leanings as far-left, and only 2 percent as far-right. More students, 46 percent, regarded their political beliefs as middle-of-the-road, while 28 percent saw themselves as liberal and 21 percent conservative.
The survey was based on the responses of 165,743 first-time, full-time students at 234 four-year colleges and universities. The responses were statistically weighted to reflect the broader population of such students - approximately 1.5 million at 1,583 four-year schools across the U.S.
A second baby born with the AIDS virus may have had her infection put into remission and possibly cured by very early treatment - in this instance, four hours after birth.
Doctors revealed the case Wednesday at an AIDS conference in Boston. The girl was born in suburban Los Angeles last April, a month after researchers announced the first case from Mississippi. That was a medical first that led doctors worldwide to rethink how fast and hard to treat infants born with HIV, and the California doctors followed that example.
In another AIDS-related development, scientists have modified genes in the blood cells of a dozen adults to help them resist HIV. The results give hope that this approach might one day free at least some people from needing medicines to keep HIV under control, a form of cure. That study was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
The Mississippi baby is now 3 1/2 and seems HIV-free despite no treatment for about two years. The Los Angeles baby is still getting AIDS medicines, so the status of her infection is not as clear.
A host of sophisticated tests at multiple times suggest the LA baby has completely cleared the virus, said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a Johns Hopkins University physician who led the testing. The baby's signs are different from what doctors see in patients whose infections are merely suppressed by successful treatment, she said.
"We don't know if the baby is in remission ... but it looks like that," said Dr. Yvonne Bryson, an infectious disease specialist at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA who consulted on the girl's care.
Doctors are cautious about suggesting she has been cured, "but that's obviously our hope," Bryson said.
Most HIV-infected moms in the U.S. get AIDS medicines during pregnancy, which greatly cuts the chances they will pass the virus to their babies. The Mississippi baby's mom received no prenatal care and her HIV was discovered during labor. Doctors started the baby on treatment 30 hours after birth, even before tests could determine whether she was infected.
The LA baby was born at Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach, and "we knew this mother from a previous pregnancy" and that she was not taking her HIV medicines, said Dr. Audra Deveikis, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital.
The mom was given AIDS drugs during labor to try to prevent transmission of the virus, and Deveikis started the baby on them a few hours after birth. Tests later confirmed she had been infected, but does not appear to be now, nearly a year later.
The baby is continuing treatment, is in foster care "and looking very healthy," Bryson said.
The Mississippi girl was treated until she was 18 months old, when doctors lost contact with her. Ten months later when she returned, they could find no sign of infection even though the mom had stopped giving her AIDS medicines.
Bryson is one of the leaders of a federally funded study just getting underway to see if very early treatment can cure HIV infection. About 60 babies in the U.S. and other countries will get very aggressive treatment that will be discontinued if tests over a long time, possibly two years, suggest no active infection.
"These kids obviously will be followed very, very closely" for signs of the virus, said Persaud, who described the LA case at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
The study in adults was prompted by an AIDS patient who appears cured after getting a cell transplant seven years ago in Berlin from a donor with natural immunity to the virus. Only about 1 percent of people have two copies of the gene that gives this protection, and researchers have been seeking a more practical way to get similar results.
HIV usually infects blood cells through a protein on their surface called CCR5. A California company, Sangamo BioSciences Inc., makes a treatment that can knock out a gene that makes CCR5.
Dr. Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania tested it in 12 HIV patients who had their blood filtered to remove some of their cells. The treated cells were infused back into the patients.
Four weeks later, half of the patients were temporarily taken off AIDS medicines to see the gene therapy's effect. The virus returned in all but one of them; that patient turned out to have one copy of the protective gene.
"We knew that the virus was going to come back in most of the patients," but the hope is that the modified cells eventually will outnumber the rest and give the patient a way to control viral levels without medicines, said Dr. Pablo Tebas, one of the Penn researchers.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sponsored the work with Sangamo and Penn.
"The ultimate goal is to create an immune system in the body that's been edited genetically so the cells are not capable of being infected with HIV," said director Dr. Anthony Fauci, "but we are a long way from there at this point."
Jay Johnson, 53, who works for Action AIDS, an advocacy and service organization in Philadelphia, had the treatment more than three years ago. Although the virus rebounded when he temporarily went off HIV medicines, tests show his modified blood cells are still multiplying.
"Hopefully one day I'll be able to say I'm HIV negative again," he said.