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New evidence delays U.S. general's sex assault trial for third time

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - The court-martial for a U.S. Army general accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate was delayed on Thursday for a third time after the discovery of a cell phone that could shed more light on the case, according to officials and court records.

In a rare case of a court-martial of such a high-ranking officer, Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair will stand trial on charges including forcible sodomy and wrongful sexual conduct, which led to his removal from command in Afghanistan last year. He has pleaded not guilty.

The proceedings set for early January will now begin on March 4, officials at Fort Bragg, North Carolina said.

A military judge postponed the trial after the main accuser in the case, a female Army captain assigned to Sinclair's unit in Afghanistan, told attorneys for the first time about an iPhone she had containing texts and voicemails between herself and the general, according to a court order dated December 15.

The woman, with whom Sinclair admits having had a three-year affair while he was married, told prosecutors that she stored the phone in a box at her Fort Bragg home before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

The box also held at least four additional cell phones, all of which were in her possession during the time period at issue in the case, said the court ruling by the military judge, Colonel James Pohl.

The judge ordered the woman to bring all of the electronic devices, including a computer she used to download information from the iPhone, to a January 7 hearing that will be held to determine if their contents can be used in the case.

"Obviously, these devices should either have been seized or disclosed 20 months ago," said Sinclair's attorney, Richard Scheff. "That this disclosure comes on the very eve of trial is a remarkable development and raises significant questions that the defense wants answers to."

The general is accused of forcing the unmarried captain to perform oral sex against her wishes on two occasions, as well as asking other female subordinates to send him nude photos.

Sinclair could be sent to prison for life if convicted of the most serious charge, forcible sodomy.

A jury comprised of high-ranking Army officers was seated in August for the trial after a lengthy selection process.

(editing by Gunna Dickson)

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