Turning Over A New Leaf?

Pecard Claims He Was Mistreated In Jail

Since Pecard's arrest in 1996, those he left behind have struggled to understand him.

"I think deep down inside there's a little part in all of us that wants to be someone else," says Bruce Simms, Pecard's son by Susan Kwon.

"We want to be something creative; we want to be somebody different. The difference between us and him is that he actually went out and became someone else; he became someone different," he adds.

Bruce Simms was just 6 days old when his father walked out of his life.

"There were plenty of times when I'd sit back at night and I'd cry," he says. "I was a little kid, and I'd wonder where my dad was and how come he didn't want to be part of our lives." Bruce's sister Lee, and their mother, Susan Kwon, also say they were devastated by the disappearance.

As Bruce Simms grew up he heard stories about his dad, and wanted to be just like him - even becoming a martial artist.

"It wasn't until I was a teen-ager in high school that I actually knew the truth - that my father was actually using different aliases and [that] he was, in a sense, on the run," says Bruce Simms, who thinks his father never really grew up.

Another victim was his fourth wife, Angela Reed. In 1989, she was a 19-year-old in Army boot camp when she met a soldier named Eric Lee. He bought her roses during basic training and took her for rides in a white limo. They married, and when he was sent to Korea, she followed.

Soon she became suspicious and, peeking in his briefcase, found out his secret. She reported him to the authorities; he promised to go straight. She loved him, so she believed him.

But with his secret out, he had to vanish. She went with him. For two years the two traveled, through Korea, California, Arizona and Washington.

"When he was changing his Social Security number," she remembers, "he would go to the office and claim that he never had one because he was out of the country all of his life as a missionary."

"And if the first person didn't believe him, he would keep going until somebody did. And they always did; somebody always believed him," she recalls.

But after two years on the run, Angela got sick of this life and left him.

Monica Rios was the sixth wife. She was a clerk in the Maricopa County sheriff's records department when they met. Through her, Pecard could gain access to confidential information. He gave her roses, and after a whirlwind romance, proposed on a firing range. They were married in Las Vegas.

Pecard didn't tel her about his past. Although she knew that he had been married once before, she did not know he had been married four other times. Rios found out about his multiple identities on the news. They had been married for five days. "I hate him," says Rios, who recently divorced Pecard.

But the angriest of all may have been Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So he got even. Pecard was placed in a cellblock that housed the jail's most dangerous criminals.

"There is no question that that man was singled out because he embarrassed Joe," says the sheriff's executive officer, Tom Bearup.

Pecard stayed in the Maricopa County jail for 11 months waiting for a court date in Phoenix. At the same time the Army pressed ahead with perhaps the oddest court martial for desertion in U.S. history. Because of Pecard's identity crisis, his lawyer, Captain Edward Dillard, had to defend seven different people.

Facing overwhelming evidence, Pecard pleaded guilty. Then he begged for leniency, saying that he had enlisted at 14 to serve his country and had seen combat in Vietnam. But the Army's lead prosecutor, Gloria McKinney, says that she found no evidence that Pecard had even been there at all.

The Army sentenced Pecard to six years in prison. But when Pecard was sent back to the Maricopa County jail to face the felony charges, he began writing legal briefs.

Pecard, who was helped by lawyer Richard Gierloff and Captain Dillard, said that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department violated his civil rights, denying him meals, withholding medical attention, opening his legal mail, recording his phone calls and keeping him in solitary confinement.

Pecard presented a motion to dismiss the Arizona case and won; in July 1998 the county dropped all charges against him, including those of sexual abuse. When the Army learned about the dismissal, it reduced Pecard's military sentence to time served plus three months.

Today Pecard is out of jail. He is now suing Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department for $6 million. Arpaio declines to comment.

Now, Pecard says, he will go straight, as David Pecard. While in jail, he earned a correspondence-school law degree, and he plans to be a lawyer.

His lawyer, Gerloff, has hired him. "He's very much dedicated to improving his legal skills," says Gerloff. "He's terribly sincere."

Pecard also wants to try acting and has gotten together a resume and head shot. "I should be a natural," he says.

But there are signs that Pecard may not have turned over a new leaf. Although Pecard says he wants to be a father to Bruce and Lee, they say that he has made almost no effort to stay in contact.

But Pecard says that he is now on the up and up: "David Michael Pecard is a product of everything I have ever been in my life - a product of everything I have ever accomplished in my life. He's who I am."

Produced by David Kohn;