February 19, 2009

Veteran with PTSD won’t do time for robberies

Last month I wrote about the potentially landmark case in which an Army veteran was found insane in the armed robbery of a pharmacy. Sargent Binkley said he robbed that pharmacy and one other of painkillers to cope with his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yesterday, Sargent pleaded no contest in a separate San Francisco Peninsula robbery committed during the same time period, in exchange for a promise of probation. He had faced at least 12 years in prison.

Binkley cannot be formally sentenced until state hospital doctors find him sane and no longer dangerous. The ability of the white West Point graduate and former Eagle Scout to garner sympathy among jurors and prosecutors bodes well for his stay at the hospital. If I had to bet, I would predict state hospital psychiatrists will agree to a quick release.

Armed robbers are rarely found insane when their crimes appear rational, goal-directed, and premeditated. Additionally, California law does not allow for an insanity verdict based on addiction alone.

The defense had argued that Binkley was traumatized by two events -- guarding a mass grave in Bosnia and shooting a teenager during a Honduran drug raid. Prosecutors countered that Binkley exaggerated his military service and that his claim of involvement in drug interdiction in Honduras was pure fantasy. Further, they said, his addiction to pain pills stemmed not from military-related activities but from a hip injury incurred while he was running away from a production assistant for the Fox reality TV show "Temptation Island" after a bar fight.

The trial featured dueling psychiatric experts who agreed that Binkley suffers from PTSD, but disagreed on whether his symptoms were of sufficient magnitude as to render him insane, or incapable of knowing right from wrong at the time of the robberies.

The case comes amid growing interest in the plight of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders acknowledge that multiple deployments in particular put a severe strain soldiers and their families, and can increase the likelihood of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

To handle a wave of arrests of soldiers, special courts for veterans are opening in several states, including Arizona.

Related stories:

Insanity verdict for soldier with PTSD: Case heralded as landmark for traumatized veterans (blog post, Jan. 14, 2009)

Ex-Army captain won't do time for two holdups (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 19, 2009)

Focus on violence by returning GIs (New York Times, Jan. 2, 2009)

New court is sought to aid vets charged with crimes (Arizona Republic, Jan. 6, 2009)

Reaching out to returning vets (Wisconsin Law Journal, Feb. 6, 2009 – subscription required)

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