Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) December 18, 2014 – Army officer gets discharge and indictment upon discovery of simultaneous marriages.
Bigamy, while not the most common cause of marital disputes ending up in criminal court, landed former Army Sgt. Courtney Brown an indictment in late October.
A Cumberland County, North Carolina, grand jury handed down the indictment against Brown, 30, who was not prosecuted explicitly for bigamy while serving in the military. Instead, after months of congressional inquiries as well as military and civilian investigations, the Army discharged Brown for fraud, forgery and adultery in early October.
Brown’s fourth wife, Saroya Pendleton-Brown, discovered several marriage certificates in boxes she was unpacking after the couple was transferred to Fort Benning, near Columbus, Ga. Pendleton-Brown, who married Brown in South Carolina in 2011, found one marriage certificate for Brown’s nuptials to third wife Renee Stewart, a Jamaican woman to whom Brown was still married. Pendleton-Brown, who had thought that she was Brown’s first and only wife, also found marriage certificates to two other ex-wives.
Pendleton-Brown decided to bring her discovery to the attention of Brown’s commanders at Fort Benning. But the Army, although launching an investigation that ultimately resulted in Brown’s general discharge, did not prosecute him for bigamy under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Army officials said they did not have proof of Brown’s multiple marriages until August, when Stewart emailed court documents to them. However, military records show that investigators received court documents from Cumberland County two months earlier.
Though the revelation led investigators to determine that there was probable cause to charge Brown with Article 134, which covers bigamy, among other offenses, they opted to close that portion of the case without further explanation. At that point, Brown was still in the service.
“A spouse would be able to file for a military divorce if the service-member half of the union is still in the military at the time of the filing,” said Lisa McDevitt, a prominent Fairfax, Va., attorney who specializes in military divorce law. “After a spouse leaves the military, though, civilian courts only would handle the breakup.”
A Cumberland County court granted an annulment based on bigamy in June 2014 for the Browns prior to Brown’s discharge from the military on October 2. The court found out shortly after the annulment that Brown had defrauded the courts when he filed for divorce from Stewart in 2011, having said that she lived in Fayetteville and had consented to the divorce. In fact, Stewart had never been to the United States, much less consented to the divorce. Brown had forged the divorce consent agreement from Stewart.
Stewart, who was stunned to learn of Brown’s marriage to Pendleton-Brown, is also seeking a divorce from Brown after briefly speaking with both Brown and Pendleton-Brown.
“If this case had been a military divorce, and a routine one at that, it would have already presented special legal complexities and challenges because military divorces, as opposed to civilian divorces, are governed by both federal and state law,” McDevitt said. “But because of the criminal charges, another layer of complexity has been added to this legal drama.”
Lisa Lane McDevitt
2155 Bonaventure Drive
Vienna, VA 22181