The case against David Hinkson included prominent testimony from a man claiming to be a decorated war veteran. The problem: the witness’ claims about killing men and being decorated in combat were false.
All lies. Mr. Swisher had never seen combat, had killed no one and had served without distinction. The document was a forgery. Mr. Swisher has since been convicted of lying to federal officials, wearing fake medals and defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs of benefits for combat injuries.
But the jury knew none of this, and with Mr. Swisher’s testimony it convicted Mr. Hinkson of soliciting three murders. He was sentenced to 33 years for those crimes, along with 10 years for tax evasion, and he is serving his sentence in the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.
The New York Times uses this case to illustrate a larger question: just how different is testimony from a veteran in court? According to veteran’s groups, jurors respect military service and put more faith in testimony from veterans.
Culturally, being a veteran does seem to confer certain respect from other citizens. Think of instances where veterans are applauded, perhaps at a sporting event, church, or civic gathering. Serving in the military is equated with bravery, courage, and patriotism.
But do these qualities necessarily translate into providing true testimony or acting legally or morally? Not necessarily. In cases where the credibility of witnesses matters, it seems like being truthful about decorated military service would matter – if it didn’t, there would be no reason to lie to claim one was a decorated veteran. It sounds like it will take some work to translate cultural ideas about veterans as honorable citizens into court proceedings.