The recent recipient of a free wedding may not hear those wedding bells after all.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Ezel, an active-duty Marine with Camp Lejeune’s 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, and his fiancée were selected by Operation Marry Me to receive a free wedding on Nov. 11 of this year.
However, Alecia Geddings, the founder of Operation Marry Me Military, said that after the announcement, she learned Ezel is accused of the sexual assault of a minor.
“We had no knowledge of any pending court actions at the time the winners were selected,” Geddings said. “Due to the nature of the allegations, I am handing this to our legal counsel and awaiting further instructions. I can assure you that it is our intent to maintain the integrity of Operation Marry Me Military.”
Ezel, according to prosecuting attorney 1st Lt. Brett Sheneman, will be subject to a general court martial by jury from Sept. 25 to 27 for allegedly sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, touching the boy’s genitals, sodomy, providing alcohol to a minor and showing pornography to a minor. All of the alleged incidents reportedly occurred in September 201l. Sheneman, a Marine with Legal Services Support Section aboard Camp Lejeune, would not discuss whether any plea bargains had been submitted by the defense and would not discuss the trial’s potential outcome.
Ezel, who is engaged to a Havelock woman, declined to comment.
Geddings said there was no way for her organization to know about the pending charges.
“We do everything we can with the resources we have to research our applicants,” Geddings said. “I’m not privy to military records so I have to use what the state will allow me to get. When we did a search on the statewide docketing database, he did not come up. There was no way for us to know. We would not have gone this far if we knew there was pending legal action.”
Geddings said that next year Operation Marry Me Military will ask applicants about legal involvement.
“Our mission is to give back to those who give their all,” Geddings said. “We try to do good things for good and deserving people.
“This is supposed to have no negativity following it and I do not want any negative light shed upon the program because of someone’s actions whether it be winners, non-winners, the public or media.”