CANTON, Ga. - The civil attorney who originally represented a Cherokee County couple injured in a Texas train accident testified he even asked a U.S. Senator from Georgia to help prove Shane Ladner had a Purple Heart.
Ladner faces seven felony counts of false statements connected to his claim he was wounded during a top secret jungle mission as an 18-year-old Army private.
A FOX5 I-Team investigation in 2013 was the first to poke holes in Ladner's original war story, that he was wounded during the U.S. invasion of Panama. That war took place in 1989. We pointed out to Ladner he was still in high school during that time.
Eventually, Ladner said he was actually told to make up the Panama story as cover for his top secret jungle mission. And he produced a document that appeared to be a military record, called a DD-214, listing a Purple Heart.
But civil attorney John Cook told the jury he was unable to find any government agency that also had that Purple Heart document. So Cook tried then-U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.
"We sent letters to Senator Chambliss saying please, cause we were getting nothing," the Texas attorney told the jury. "This one thing I can tell you: the official place where this record is supposed to be, St. Louis, does not have a DD-214 for Shane."
Cook testified even Sen. Chambliss, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committee, was not able to help.
Cook says he sent that same DD-214 to Cherokee County investigators when they questioned Ladner.
"I was actually surprised they arrested him," Cook told the jury.
A series of retired soldiers and officers who served with Ladner testified earlier that there were no secret missions out of the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras in 1991, no one treated for battle wounds, no Purple Hearts awarded.
Attorney Cook represented 16 people killed or injured after a train traveling 68 miles per hour struck a parade float honoring wounded war veterans. In his application to take part in the 2012 event, which also included an all-expenses paid deer hunting trip in Midland, Texas, Shane Ladner wrote he'd been injured during the battle of Panama, even saying his squad leader had been killed. He has since admitted that was not true.
The train crash left Ladner with minor injuries, but wife Meg still has to use a wheelchair, one of her legs amputated from the accident.
She told the jury Thursday she has not watched the Fox 5 I-team investigation about her husband or news stories about his arrest.
"I know that God did not let me live through losing my leg and going through three months in the hospital, to then be put through this hell on Earth," she said firmly. "And he is telling the truth."
The trial resumes Monday with closing arguments expected.