KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A northwest Missouri man has been accused of lying about earning two of the military's top honors for his actions during the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Timothy James Watkins, 47, of Richmond, on one misdemeanor count of falsely representing the award of military medals. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The indictment comes as similar cases face First Amendment challenges in Colorado and California. Lawyers in those two cases argued against the federal Stolen Valor Act, saying lying is protected by the First Amendment unless it does real harm.
Prosecutors in Missouri said Watkins bought Purple Heart and Silver Star medals at a pawn shop outside Kansas City after his discharge from the Army in mid-1983. He told people he won the medals for his efforts during the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, prosecutors said.
Watkins was not in the military at the time of the invasion and did not take part, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said he was in the military for one month.
The Purple Heart is awarded to those who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action. The Silver Star is given for valor in the face of the enemy.
There was no phone number listed for Watkins in Richmond, and no lawyer was listed for him on the court documents.
John Bircher, national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veteran service organization, applauded the charges against Watkins.
Legitimate recipients of the Purple Heart find such conduct "infuriating," Bircher said.
"It's a very special decoration," he said. "For someone to claim that they have a Purple Heart is a very serious thing to us."
Others have challenged the federal law that allows such prosecutions and say lying about military service could be protected by the First Amendment.
In California, a judge rejected a motion to dismiss a charge against Xavier Alvarez of falsely claiming he received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration. Alvarez is appealing on free speech grounds.
In Colorado, Richard Glen Strandlof is awaiting trial on charges of falsely claiming he received a Purple Heart and Silver Star. He pleaded not guilty. The judge hasn't ruled on motions raising the free speech argument.