CANTON, Ga. - Jury selection began Thursday in the case of a former Holly Springs cop accused of pretending to be a Purple Heart recipient.
A Cherokee County Grand Jury indicted Shane Ladner on seven felony counts of making a false statement. He has pled not guilty.
The case of the retired Army sergeant came to light following a FOX 5 I-Team investigation into how he originally claimed to be injured in battle, questions that likely would never have been asked if it had not been for The Accident.
In November, 2012, Ladner was one of two dozen military veterans honored in Midland, Texas. A train smashed into their parade float at a railroad crossing, leaving four dead and Ladner's wife's left leg so damaged it had to be amputated. The accident attracted national media concern and coverage.
Once Ladner returned to Georgia -- and well-wishers began raising money for the couple -- the FOX 5 I-Team received tips questioning Ladner's supposed war record and his Purple Heart claim that got him a tax-free license plate.
We began by investigating the biography he wrote as part of getting that free hunting trip to Texas. Ladner said he was injured during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. "We were under heavy fire and pinned down. I was engaging the enemy when I heard an explosion behind me..."
But the Panama invasion happened when Ladner was still in high school. And the U.S. Military could find no record in its files of him earning a Purple Heart.
The idea of Stolen Valor -- pretending to have military awards you didn't really earn -- is of great concern to military veterans and Congress. After the FOX 5 I-Team poked holes in Ladner's original story, he came up with another explanation.
Through his civil attorney, Ladner insisted he had graduated early from high school and still took part in the Panama invasion. Only after the FOX 5 I-Team showed his high school transcripts did he offer a third explanation he still maintains today: he was injured on a top secret mission in an unnamed Central American country.
Ladner even produced a document he says he got from the military in 2004, called a DD-214. That's a form that summarizes a soldier's military accomplishments. It does mention a Purple Heart... along with several other impressive medals that also do not show up on the official DD-214s the military provided to FOX 5.
Despite Ladner's so-called military "document" listing the Purple Heart award, Cherokee County prosecutors don't believe him. He faces one count of making a false statement to Cherokee County Sheriff's investigators and six counts of making a false statement to the Cherokee County Tax Commissioner in connection to those tax-free license plates.
Ladner sued FOX 5 over our original reporting, a lawsuit that was dismissed. He is appealing.
And for those hoping to hear from Ladner on the witness stand, they may be disappointed. According to a motion filed by his attorney, Ladner "will not testify at the trial of this case."
Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday.