GREAT FALLS — A former judge improperly punished two men who lied about their military service in court, the Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Former Montana Eighth District Court Judge Greg Pinski had forced Ryan Patrick Morris and Troy Allan Nelson in 2019 to conduct a series of acts of apology in order to be eligible for parole.
In order for both to be eligible for parole, Pinski had mandated that every year during the three-year suspended sentences both men received, the two had to stand at the Montana Veterans Memorial for eight hours on each Memorial and Veterans Day wearing a sign that reads, “I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans.”
The state high court struck down the sentencing condition on Wednesday.
Morris had received 10 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation for felony burglary, while Nelson got five years for a drug possession conviction.
Pinski also ruled that both men would have to write, by hand, the names of all 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; write out the obituaries of the 40 Montana residents killed in the two wars and send hand-written letters of apology to several veterans groups in which they would have to identify themselves as having lied about their military service to receive help and possibly a lesser sentence through a Veterans Court.
Once paroled, the judge ordered that both men serve 441 hours of community service, an hour for each of the Montana residents that have been killed in combat since the Korean War.
The two men appealed the conditions last year. American Civil Liberties Union of Montana had called the conditions degrading and unconstitutional.
Neither of the men had been officially charged with stolen valor.
Morris had claimed in 2016 he did seven combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, had PTSD and had his hip replaced after he was wounded by an IED. Nelson successfully enrolled himself into the Veterans Treatment Court before officials determined he had not actually served in the military.
“At long last, Mr. Morris and Mr. Nelson were able to tell their side of the story,” said Morris and Nelson’s appellate defense attorney James Reavis. “The media covered the sensationalism of the district court’s actions, but largely did not stop to ask whether the court’s actions were legal or constitutional. Our brief successfully argued that the district court acted without statutory authority and violated the Montana & U.S. Constitutions.”
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