In most cases, when a criminal is found to be guilty of one crime or another, the result is typically fines, community service, probation, time spent in jail or prison, or a combination thereof. However, this particular judge in Montana is proving that sometimes the typical punishment isn’t always the best.
Two men, 28-year-old Ryan Patrick Morris, and Troy Allan Nelson, who is 33, were called into Cascade County District Judge Greg Pinski’s court because they had both lied about their service in the US military to get less severe sentences for recent unrelated crimes.
Morris, who has a previous criminal record, was found to have violated his parole and by stealing nearly $1500 worth of items from his landlord. When his crimes were found out, he claimed that he was an Army vet who had completed seven combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, he said that he had PTSD as a result of being hit with an IED on one tour, which left him in need of major hip surgery.
Similarly, Nelson was accused of drug charges, forgery, and elder abuse after spending a large portion of his neighbor’s money while being on probation for previous crimes. Like Morris, Nelson claimed to have PTSD as a result of his time spent in the US Army.
Both admitted after being caught in their lies that they were trying to get into the Veterans’ Court program. This is a special court held to address crimes that are possibly related to service-related addictions, stress, and/or injuries, like PTSD. As many of the crimes are believed to stem from these problems, sentences are often lessened, and treatment plans offered instead.
Both Morris and Nelson sought the lesser sentencing of the Veterans’ Court and so lied about their service, of which neither had participated in.
However, Judge Pinski found out about their little ruse, and it inspired him to change things up a bit.
They both received individual and standard sentences according to their crimes: ten years for Morris’ violation of probation and five years for Nelson. But in addition to their own sentences, the two are to complete a few tasks before they are eligible for parole.
Firstly, the two will have to write every single one of the 6,756 American men and women’s names who have been killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Secondly, of those 6756 names, they will have to choose no less than 40 and personally write obituaries for them.
Next, they will have to perform an additional 441 hours of community service – one hour for each service member from Montana who has died in combat since the Korean War.
They will also have to hand-write letters of apology to several veterans’ groups such as the American Legion, AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans. These letters are to explicitly describe their lies about their military service and how they stole the honor and valor of men and women who actually deserve it.
Quite the sentence, huh?
Now, you may think this is rather harsh and uncalled for. However, you should know that the judge could have been much stricter.
According to federal law, impersonating a military officer or lying about such service “with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit” is a federal crime or felony known as the Stolen Valor Act of 2013.
As such, both men could have been given additional fines, and up to one year more in sentencing. But the judge never actually charged them with this. He was even more lenient by suspending three years of each of their sentences.
However, for each of those three suspended years, while they are on probation, both men would be required to travel to the Montana Veterans Memorial in Great Falls on Memorial and Veterans Day. Once there, they will stand for eight hours wearing a sign that reads, “I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans.”
Judge Pinski said, “I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants.”
He told them, “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.”
A better punishment couldn’t have been given. Finally, something that actually makes a person learn from and regret their mistakes.