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Fort Bragg soldier court-martialed on charge of enlisting, serving under brother's name

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Sgt. Maj. William Anthony Morrone Jr. tried to escape a troubled past by taking another man's identity decades ago.

He started a new life and career and advanced to the top of his field, obtaining the highest enlisted rank in the Army.

This week in a Fort Bragg courtroom, Morrone is being court-martialed on charges that he broke laws as he spent the last 25 years impersonating Gerald Morrone, his brother.

William Morrone's fate will be decided by one man, because Morrone chose a judge trial over a jury trial.

The judge, Col. Andrew Glass, has been hearing evidence for and against Morrone since Monday. He is expected to decide this week whether to find him guilty of a crime.

Morrone is charged with fraudulent enlistment, making false official statements and of falsely obtaining military housing pay.

William Morrone admits he used Gerald's name and Social Security number to join the Army in spring 1988. "I was being paid under my brother's name," he told Glass on Tuesday morning.

But Morrone's three military lawyers and civilian lawyer presented evidence Tuesday that he tried to switch back to his real name in the first years and as recently as last year. The Army could never make it happen, they said. Based on his efforts to rectify the situation, they say Morrone is not guilty.

The lawyers acknowledge only that Morrone's enlistment in 1988 was fraudulent, but the statute of limitations for that crime has expired so he can't be convicted of it.

The remaining charges stem from Morrone's more recent re-enlistments and his use of his brother's name on Army documents and during a traffic stop. The housing pay charge stems from his receiving additional pay for a dependent after his son's 21st birthday, when his eligibility for the extra money ended.

It wasn't clear from the court testimony on Tuesday how Morrone got onto this road.

In an interview, Morrone's civilian defense lawyer Bill Cassara of Augusta, Ga., said Morrone was kicked out of the Army about 30 years ago. Cassara wouldn't say why.

The discharge was less than honorable, preventing Morrone from re-enlisting.

According to witness testimony on Tuesday, Morrone got in trouble with the law in Washington state in the mid-1980s, pleading guilty to a felony in May 1987 to stealing from an employer. That would have been another factor keeping him from returning to the Army under his own name.

The plea carried punishment including probation, a fine, restitution and community service. A probation officer from Washington testified that Morrone failed to complete those obligations.

The felony conviction and outstanding punishment would have further kept Morrone from getting back into the Army.

But in April 1988, in Atlanta, military prosecutors say, William Morrone signed up under Gerald's name. As a private first class, he was sent to 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg and spent much of his service at the post, ending up as the garrison sergeant major before he was arrested.

Morrone's Class A blue uniform sports the awards and marks of his long career, including five bars on his right sleeve, indicating at least 2 years of service in a combat zone.

Cassara said Morrone broke his back and damaged his knee serving his country.

The prosecutors' evidence indicates Morrone pretended to be his brother in other aspects of his life. Morrone had and used an Indiana driver's license under Gerald's name, and under Gerald's name was cited with running a stop sign on Fort Bragg in 2010.

North Carolina law enforcement in the spring charged William with fraudulently using Gerald's name when he purchased cars over the years.

According to testimony from several witnesses, Morrone told the Army of his deception as far back as 1989 and tried to move back to serving under his own name then and as recently as last year.

The Army never completed the name change, they said, and despite his record it wouldn't kick him out.

In the early 1990s, "we received information that they decided to keep Spc. Morrone in the Army," said retired Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Cromer.

Ethel Nock of Fort Bragg's special identification card facility said Morrone tried in 2012 to change back to his real name, but the Army wouldn't process it, and the effort ended after about eight months.

The three prosecutors rested their case shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday. The defense had several witnesses Tuesday and more are scheduled to take the stand when the case resumes at 8 a.m. today at the Fort Bragg courthouse.

woolvertonp@fayobserver.com
 

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