RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A court-martial for a U.S. Army general facing sexual assault charges has been postponed for a third time.

The trial for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair had been scheduled to begin at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Jan. 7. In a news release Thursday, the Army said military Judge Col. James Pohl has rescheduled the court martial to begin March 3 so prosecutors and defense lawyers can complete further pre-trial discovery.

Sinclair, 51, is believed to be the highest-ranking officer to face a sexual assault charge in the Army's 238-year history. It's also rare for a general to face court-martial over any type of criminal charge. There have been only two cases in recent years.

A decorated 27-year Army veteran, Sinclair has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal counts, including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Most of the charges stem from a three-year affair with a female captain who says the married father of two twice forced her to perform oral sex while she served under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan. The woman testified at the evidentiary hearing last year that she repeatedly tried to break off the affair with Sinclair. She says he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their frequent sexual liaisons in hotels, headquarters and war zones.

The Associated Press does not identify victims of alleged sexual assaults.

Two other female officers who served with Sinclair also have testified that they gave the general nude photos at his request.

Sinclair's defense attorneys portray his primary accuser as a scorned lover seeking revenge and have questioned in court whether the general can receive a fair trial under the military justice system. He faces a potential maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

The case against Sinclair comes as the Pentagon grapples with a string of revelations involving sexual misconduct within the ranks.

Prosecutions over such charges are on the rise even as the military's own data suggests only about one in eight sexual assaults are reported or prosecuted. Influential members of Congress are now pushing to remove decisions about the prosecution of sex crimes from the military chain of command.

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Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

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