Great Falls, MT – A Montana district court judge has imposed unique sentence conditions for two convicted felons who lied about having served in the U.S. military.
Troy Nelson and Ryan Morris both claimed that they were military veterans in an effort to qualify for lesser sentences and admittance into Veterans Treatment Court, KRTV reported.
Nelson, 33, had already managed to get himself into the treatment court program before it was discovered that he never served in the military, according to the Great Falls Tribune.
Morris, 28, previously told the court that he served seven tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that he had a hip replaced after being injured by an improvised explosive device.
He further claimed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service.
When Montana District Court Judge Greg Pinski learned that neither Nelson nor Morris had ever served in the military, their schemes backfired.
Nelson, who was convicted of criminal possession of dangerous drugs, was sentenced to five years in prison with two years suspended on Friday, KRTV reported.
Morris received 10 years in prison with three years suspended for one count of burglary.
Pinski then addressed the issue of stolen valor, which is a federal offense, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
Although neither of the convicts were federally charged, Pinski found creative ways to address their deception through specific sentencing conditions.
“There are certain people — shameful people — who have not put their lives on the line for this country who portray themselves as having done so,” Pinski told them, according to the Great Falls Tribune.
The judge said that their lies were “abhorrent to the men and women who have actually served our country.”
For the duration of their sentences, Pinski ordered that both convicts attend the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies at the Montana Veterans Memorial while wearing placards emblazoned with a pre-determined message.
“You will wear a plaque that reads as follows,” Pinski said, while holding up the typed verbiage on a piece of paper for the convicts to see.
“I AM A LIAR. I AM NOT A VETERAN,” the judge read aloud, according to KRTV. “I STOLE VALOR. I DISHONORED ALL VETERANS.”
Pinski also ordered Morris and Nelson to hand-write the names of the 6,756 U.S. veterans who have lost their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and to hand-write the obituaries of the 40 Montana veterans who were killed in those wars.
The court further ordered that both convicts write letters of apology to seven military veteran organizations, and that they perform 441 hours of community service – one hour to represent each of the Montana military members who have been killed in combat since the Korean War, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
“I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants,” Pinski said during the hearing, according to the Great Falls Tribune. “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.”
Defense attorney Mark Frisbee argued that his client was being punished for an offense that he had not been convicted of.
“While acts of stolen valor are very, very important, they are not the basis of this revocation,” Frisbee declared.
But Pinski said that the conditions were punishment for lying to the court, and that the Montana Supreme Court has given judges the discretion to take such deception into account when determining an appropriate sentence, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
Nelson and Morris’ sentencings on Friday both came about after they repeatedly violated their previously-imposed probation sentences.
Nelson failed to submit to drug screenings, tested positive for illegal drug use, quit his job, failed to show up to court, and intentionally destroyed the GPS monitoring device he had been ordered to wear, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
Morris had already appeared before Pinski twice before for violating his probation sentence. He went on to abscond from probation, and was ultimately arrested in Georgia in May.