Local News

Soldier defers plea in Fort Bragg attack, break-ins

Posted June 2, 2010 6:26 a.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2010 1:49 p.m. EDT

— An 82nd Airborne Division soldier declined to enter a plea Wednesday during a brief arraignment on rape and burglary charges.

Spc. Aaron Michael Pernell, 23, is a suspect in two break-ins and a sexual assault on Fort Bragg last December and six sexual assaults in Fayetteville and Hoke County between 2008 and 2009.

Pernell, an artillery man with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, was formally charged by a military court Wednesday with two counts each of rape and burglary and one count each of attempted rape, assault consummated by battery and housebreaking.

After responding "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to questions from a military judge during a five-minute hearing Wednesday, Pernell left the courthouse on post in handcuffs and ankle bracelets. He remains in confinement at Camp Lejeune.

Because he deferred his plea, he will have to file a written notice by July 16 stating his plea and will have to announce it in court at the beginning of his court-martial, which is set to begin the week of Aug. 23.

A pre-trial motions hearing is set for July 26.

Military prosecutors have said they believe they have enough evidence to warrant a court-martial and win a sentence for life in prison.

At an April hearing, Jarrad Williams, an agent with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, said that DNA from Pernell matches semen found on the clothing of a Fort Bragg woman who was sexually assaulted on Dec. 13. The woman told investigators that she was raped in front of her child and that her attacker spent three to four hours inside her home in the Ste. Mere Eglise neighborhood, Williams said.

Another woman said that she had seen a man break into her home and steal a diamond ring, he said.

After being detained by authorities in January, Pernell told investigators that "Jason," a voice inside his head, instructed him to attack the women, Williams said.

"I myself would not commit these crimes. The voice in my head makes me do bad things," Williams recalled Pernell telling investigators.

Pernell also faces prosecution in civilian courts on more than 30 charges in connection with the attacks in Fayetteville and Hoke County. Authorities haven't released details in those cases.

He hasn't been named as a suspect in a highly publicized series of rapes in Fayetteville and Hope Mills between June 2009 and January that is being investigated by a regional task force of local, state and military authorities.

Family members have said that Pernell used to be a bubbly, outgoing, playful husband and a father of a little girl. His mother was in the Air Force, and both parents were ordained ministers.

He soon separated from his wife, though, and relatives said he returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2006 a changed, troubled man.