SPECIAL REPORT: Bigamy victim fights for justice

SPECIAL REPORT: Bigamy victim fights for justice
Kelly Butler married Sgt. Timothy Pennock last May in Wrightsville Beach, while the active duty Army soldier was home on leave.
Kelly Butler married Sgt. Timothy Pennock last May in Wrightsville Beach, while the active duty Army soldier was home on leave.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wilmington woman recently found out her husband of five months is still married to someone else. She thought she was his first wife, but was surprised to learn she is actually his fourth wife, and that he has a history of overlapping marriages.

Kelly Butler married Sgt. Timothy Pennock last May in Wrightsville Beach, while the active duty Army soldier was home on leave. They struck up a romance a few months earlier while he was deployed in Afghanistan. After a series of love letters, emails and phone calls, they got married when he came home.

On their marriage license, Pennock indicated it was his first marriage. But after they said their vows, Butler said her husband started mentioning women from his past. That's how she realized she wasn't his first wife, or even his second.

Then - the real bomb shell came during marriage counseling, when Butler says the counselor got suspicious and insisted that Pennock produce divorce papers from his third wife. "The next day he confessed that he couldn't get me the divorce papers because he wasn't divorced," Butler recalled.

Even though Butler says she lived on base with Pennock at Fort Bragg for four months, and says the Army paid for their marriage counseling, she says the Army has now turned their back on her because she's technically not his wife. Moreover, Butler says they chewed her out for going to the media.

Aside from a huge emotional toll - the financial toll this has taken on Butler has been devastating.

After the truth came out, Butler says Pennock left the state, and she just got an eviction notice from her landlord because without his help she can't afford their rent. She's also no longer eligible for military health insurance.

But Butler says she fared better than the wife number three, who was left with maxed out credit cards and a baby.

We talked to Tiffany Pennock by phone from her home in California. She told us about her recent discovery that her husband had married another woman. "I do remember my very first feeling - was not being angry at him. I felt very sorry for Kelly. Because I was in that place and it's such a life shattering, destroying, lonely place to be."

Tiffany Pennock says she married Timothy in 2005, before learning he was still married to his second wife.

Ironically, wife #3 and wife #4 say they count on each other as a support system, and have teamed up to try to keep their husband from doing this to anyone else.

"He's done this multiple times, and it's been documented multiple times, and that multiple people have reported it and nobody's done anything to stop him," a frustrated Butler told us about efforts to get help from authorities.

Bigamy is a felony in North Carolina, but it's rarely reported or prosecuted. Butler says when she tried to take out charges, she got the runaround. So we made some calls on her behalf. A Wrightsville Beach Police detective took the case, and it should soon be in the hands of the New Hanover County District Attorney.

"What we are talking about now is protecting the public," New Hanover County DA Ben David told us about prosecuting bigamy cases. "Making sure that individuals who have been victimized, maybe great economic harm has befallen them, maybe they are denied benefits or had to get kicked out of their home because of some of this conduct, that's what we're looking for, and as for the willfulness, we're looking for whether there's a pattern of conduct."

So where is Timothy Pennock now? Neither wife knows for sure, but at last check, they say he was in California.

Pennock didn't return our phone call, but we did get up with officials at Fort Bragg, who say Sgt. Pennock is transitional leave status from the Army, slated for an honorable discharge November 20th.

Army officials would not say if they are pursuing any kind of action against Pennock stemming from the bigamy allegations. They say if Pennock is charged with bigamy by civilian authorities that should not affect his honorable discharge from the military.

Copyright 2012 WECT. All rights reserved.