Local News

Soldier pleads guilty to Fort Bragg rape, acquitted of burglaries

Posted December 8, 2010 6:50 a.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2010 2:35 p.m. EST

— An 82nd Airborne Division soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to breaking into a Fort Bragg home a year ago and raping a woman inside, but a military judge found him not guilty of two other burglaries on post.

Army Spc. Aaron Michael Pernell, 23, also is charged in connection with six sexual assaults in Fayetteville and Hoke County between 2008 and 2009. Trials in civilian courts on those charges haven't been scheduled.

Pernell pleaded guilty to one count each of rape, aggravated sexual contact, attempted aggravated sexual contact, assault consummated by battery and burglary. The charges stem from a Dec. 12, 2009, attack on a woman who lived in the Ste. Mere Eglise neighborhood on Fort Bragg.

During Wednesday's court-martial, Pernell told the judge that he broke into the home through an unlocked bathroom window at about 2 or 3 a.m. He said he found the woman sleeping with a baby and a small child and then outlined the assault in graphic detail.

"I told her, if she failed to do these things, she and her family would be subjected to death," he said, adding that she began to choke her when she refused to comply. "I caused her to come to a point where she was beginning to lose consciousness."

Investigators have said DNA from Pernell matched semen found on the clothing of the woman.

Pernell said he takes full responsibility for his actions in the case.

Two other homes in the same neighborhood were burglarized on Dec. 10 and Dec. 23 last year, but Col. Gary Brockington, the military judge overseeing the case, acquitted Pernell of the crimes after hearing from the two homeowners Wednesday.

The woman in the Dec. 10 incident said she was "80 percent sure" Pernell was the man she saw in her home. She said she fled the house screaming when she saw him.

In the Dec. 23 case, the woman said she found Pernell drunk on the floor of a bedroom asking for his friend "Jason." The woman said she led him outside, telling him he had the wrong house, and Brockington said there was no evidence that any crime had occurred.

After he was detained by military investigators on Jan. 28, and an agent with the Army's Criminal Investigative Command has said, Pernell told the investigators that "Jason," a voice inside his head, instructed him to attack the woman.

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

Family members have said that Pernell returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2006 as a changed, troubled man.

Pernell will be sentenced in the rape case Thursday, when he faces a possible life sentence in military prison.