CANTON, Ga. - A Cherokee County jury found former cop Shane Ladner guilty on six counts of lying about having a Purple Heart battle medal.
The verdict comes four years after a FOX 5 I-Team investigation poked holes in Shane Ladner's original war wound story.
Ladner was convicted on one count of lying to investigators, and five counts of lying to the county tax commissioner so he could get a tax free license plate for his pickup. The total amount of money he saved was not significant --- about $500 -- but prosecutors say so many veterans urged them four years ago to focus on Ladner because a false Purple Heart claim they say takes away from the real veterans who really did shed blood for our country.
The former Holly Springs cop sat emotionless as all six guilty verdicts rang out in the packed Cherokee County courtroom. His wife Meg Ladner sat behind him, comforted by friends. She stuck with him throughout the trial, testifying that she believed her husband's Purple Heart claim.
The trial itself likely never would have happened had it not been for The Accident.
A train smashed into a parade float in Midland, Texas back in 2012, leaving four people dead. The parade was part of a free hunting trip to honor wounded war veterans. Ladner's wife was critically injured, spending 16 days in a coma.
Some family members blamed Ladner for her injuries after learning the story he used to be chosen for that trip was not true. The FOX 5 I-Team reported that during the time Ladner claimed he was wounded during the invasion of Panama, he was actually still in high school. He quickly changed his war story, insisting he was actually wounded during a secret jungle mission as an 18-year-old MP.
Ladner sued FOX 5 over our reporting, a lawsuit that was dismissed. Ladner has filed an appeal. But during their deliberations in the criminal case, the jury asked to see again the video deposition from that civil lawsuit of Ladner telling his war story.
"I woke up and there was a Purple Heart on my pillow," he explained to our attorney Cynthia Counts. "I was approached by someone in a-- who I assumed was a Colonel. He was in a colonel's uniform. I was instructed on the sensitivity of our missions. I was reminded of my nondisclosure paperwork and I was told that if anyone asked I was injured in Panama."
Ladner even produced a document that listed a Purple Heart among several other impressive medals.
But an Army records specialist testified that document doesn't exist in Ladner's files, no record she said of a Purple Heart or those other impressive medals.
Ladner's commander, retired General John Walsh, insisted there were no Purple Hearts or war wounds during the time Ladner claimed. General Walsh earned three Purple Hearts when he served in Vietnam.
And contrary to Ladner's statement he received medical treatment several times and excused from physical therapy for two months after suffering his battle wound, medical records entered into evidence showed him hurting an ankle while doing PT during that time period, no mention of a battle wound anywhere.
Ladner was led away after the verdict. He will be free on a $40,000 bond until sentencing later this summer.
Afterward, prosecutors detailed why they spent so much time on this case.
"Early on four years ago we had contact from local law enforcement, from veterans locally, veterans around the country," explained chief assistant district attorney Rachelle Carnesale. "So Ms. (District attorney Shannon) Wallace decided to make it a priority. So if we're going to go forward on a case we're going to prove our case.
I asked co-prosecutor Zachary Smith if his office believes Ladner should get prison time.
"Absolutely," Smith replied. "Our recommendation will be that he serve time in custody."
Prosecutors credited Cherokee County Sheriff's investigators for spending "so much time" on the case. They also pointed to FBI special agent Mark Sewell, himself a veteran, who tracked down all those retired veterans, witnesses who served with Ladner in Honduras in 1991.