A Montana judge wanted to be sure his message was “received loud and clear” by the two men he sentenced after they pretended to be military veterans.
Judge Greg Pinski of the Cascade County district court handed down a tough but very creative sentence for the defendants last week, making it more than clear that their attempt at “stolen valor” was totally unacceptable, KRTV reported.
“I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants,” Pinski said when handing down the sentences for Ryan Morris and Troy Nelson.
The men had lied about being military veterans in order to get preferential treatment, attempting to qualify for lesser sentences and be accepted into Pinski’s Veterans Treatment Court. But their scheme was discovered and the judge let them know he was not tolerating the insult to veterans.
Morris, 28, received a 10-year sentence for violating probation after a felony burglary and for falsely claiming he was injured by an IED explosion while on a combat tour, according to Stars and Stripes. Nelson, 33, received a five-year sentence for drug possession and was already enrolled in a veteran’s court when the discovery was made that he had lied. Neither was officially charged with stolen valor, which is a federal crime.
Pinski slammed their scheme as “abhorrent to the men and women who have actually served our country,” and proceeded to send them a clear message. Morris and Nelson were made to watch a video of a military member confronting a stolen valor suspect.
“You’ve been nothing but disrespectful in your conduct. You certainly have not respected the Army. You’ve not respected the veterans. You’ve not respected the court. And you haven’t respected yourselves,” the judge told the men, and he also read the names of people from Montana who had been killed while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pinski also gave the conditions Morris and Nelson have to meet in order to earn parole.
While on probation, the men must wear a sign on Memorial Day and Veterans Day outside the Montana Veterans Memorial that reads: “I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans.”
In addition, the men must complete 441 hours of community service after their release from prison as well as hand-write the names of the 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Morris and Nelson will also have to hand-write the obituaries of the 40 Montana soldiers in that same group.
But Pinski wasn’t done, requiring that the defendants also write letters of apology to national veterans organizations, including the American Legion, AmVets, Disabled American Veterans, the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Vietnam Veterans of America, according to KRTV.
American Legion spokesman Dan Rapkoch called the false service claims a “reprehensible act committed against the women and men who serve and sacrifice for our nation.”
The attorney for Morris objected to his client being made to wear the sign, claiming that he was being punished as if he had been charged under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, but had not. Pinski cited a Supreme Court case that allowed him to require the wearing of the sign.
County attorney Joshua Racki noted on Monday that Morris would have to serve seven years and Nelson three, and both men would be eligible for parole part of the way through if they meet Pinski’s conditions. Failing to meet the requirements will keep the men in prison for the duration of their full sentences, he added.
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