A man accused of multiple rapes in the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg community is scheduled to face a court-martial Dec. 8, a military judge announced Monday.
Spc. Aaron M. Pernell of Tulsa, Okla., is charged by military authorities with attempted rape, two counts of rape, assault, two counts of burglary and one count of housebreaking on Fort Bragg. The charges stem from two home break-ins on Fort Bragg and the assault on one woman.
Pernell faces 26 charges from civilian law enforcement in neighboring Fayetteville and Hoke County from attacks on six other women. The accusations include rape, kidnapping and robbery.
The military judge, Col. Gary Brockington, set the trial date and made several other pre-trial rulings Monday during a motions hearing at Fort Bragg.
Brockington granted the defense lawyers’ request to hire a DNA expert to help them evaluate DNA samples from four of the civilian assaults. Evidence from these four cases is likely to be presented against Pernell at his court-martial.
The defense lawyers must ask permission from the judge to hire experts because they will be paid for by the government. Pernell is being represented by two military lawyers. A previously hired DNA expert, who did some work but has no desire to continue, cost $2,000, they said.
In addition to the defense lawyers’ standard desire to independently review the DNA evidence against their client, they requested the expert because the civilian DNA testing was conducted by the embattled crime lab of the State Bureau of Investigation.
The state crime lab’s work is under scrutiny because recent investigations have turned up serious problems, including a practice of withholding evidence helpful to criminal defendants. This practice lead to the conviction of at least one innocent man.
Brockington also granted the defense lawyers’ request to hire a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to assist them with evaluating and challenging the accuracy of the eyewitnesses’ memory.
They want to hire a civilian, Robert William Shomer, who has a long history in the field. Brockington said the Army should first attempt to find a psychologist or psychiatrist in the military.
Brockington rejected a request by the defense to hire a private investigator or have a military law enforcement investigator assigned to assist them. Capt. Chris Koschnitsky, one of the defense lawyers, said he and his co-counsel need the investigator help to review and follow-up the work of 10 law enforcement agencies that worked the serial rape investigation across two years. The assaults in Pernell’s cases date to October 2008.