CANTON, Ga. - Tears in a Cherokee County courtroom from the man accused of falsely claiming a Purple Heart.
Shane Ladner wiped his eyes as he heard testimony from his wife's sister. Ladner's wife Meg was badly injured in an accident when the couple took part in a hunting trip arranged for wounded war veterans.
"Shane and Meg should be able to move on with their lives and have some happiness." Meg's younger sister Courtney Chiappetta told the jury.
Allegations that Shane Ladner lied about his Purple Heart battle medal have left Meg Ladner's family bitterly divided. Several relatives pushed to have him arrested and prosecuted, saying if Ladner had not submitted a fictitious battle essay, his wife would never have been on that Texas hunting trip in the first place.
Meg Ladner arrived in court for the first time in this trial, using a wheelchair as she still suffers from the effects of that horrific accident. The Ladners were riding on a parade float with 23 other wounded war veterans and their wives when the warning gates suddenly came down at a railroad crossing.
"All of a sudden chaos broke out," Meg Ladner recounted from the witness stand. "We saw the train coming and people started yelling jump!"
She went on to describe for the jury how she remembered her husband lifting her out of the chair and getting her off the float right before the train hit.
Meg Ladner said she could hear her husband praying that she still be alive.
She would be in a coma for 16 days, a hospital for three months. Her injuries included a shattered pelvis and a left leg so damaged it had to be amputated.
"In the immediate aftermath everyone came together," Meg's sister Courtney testified. "It didn't take long for that to change."
She said her mother, aunts and cousins believed Shane Ladner was wasting money and reached out to news organizations when they suspected he might not have a Purple Heart.
The FOX 5 I-Team poked holes in Ladner's original claim that he was wounded during the invasion of Panama in 1989. Ladner was actually still in high school during Operation Just Cause. We asked him about that in April, 2013, showing him his senior picture from his high school yearbook, but got no response.
Only later did Ladner provide a different explanation: he was actually wounded during a top secret jungle mission while stationed in Honduras. He provided a document that shows a Purple Heart. But a military records official testified that document doesn't appear in his official military file. Soldiers and officers who served with Ladner testified there were no secret missions or anyone wounded in battle during the time period he claimed.
Ms. Chiappetta testified Ladner's arrest was devastating to her sister.
"Everyone wanted to protect Meg. But all it was... it was killing her. It was hurting her."
Testimony continues Friday.