PTSD-afflicted vet gets probation for robbery

Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, March 26, 2010

(03-26) 12:24 PDT REDWOOD CITY --

A former Army captain who said he had robbed two Bay Area pharmacies of painkillers to try to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder was sentenced today to five years of probation.

Sargent Binkley, 35, who served in Bosnia and Honduras, was given credit for one year served in jail by Judge Susan Etezadi of San Mateo County Superior Court.

Binkley pleaded no contest last year to one count of robbery.

The deal with prosecutors capped a legal saga that spanned San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and became a rallying point for advocates of service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

Binkley could have been sentenced to at least 12 years in state prison because he used a gun while robbing two Walgreens pharmacies in 2006 - one in Mountain View on Jan. 20, the other in San Carlos on March 3.

In January 2009, however, a Santa Clara County jury found Binkley not guilty by reason of insanity in the Mountain View robbery, and a judge sentenced him to at least six months in Atascadero State Hospital. Binkley has since become an inpatient at a Veteran's Administration hospital.

San Mateo County prosecutors, predicting a similar outcome if the San Carlos robbery went to trial, agreed to a plea deal for Binkley. He had been turned in by his father, Ed Binkley, after the elder Binkley found a stash of painkillers.

"Binkley's sentence, while not the prison sentence we originally sought before the outcome of his case in Santa Clara County, still serves to protect the public since he will be on intensive supervision for the next several years and will hopefully have overcome his drug addiction and no longer pose a danger to our community," Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County's chief deputy district attorney, said today.

San Mateo County prosecutors had been open to a deal early on for Binkley, an Eagle Scout from Los Altos and West Point graduate with no previous criminal record. But Santa Clara County prosecutors weren't so inclined.

After Binkley's case was publicized, several West Point graduates set up a Web site on his behalf, sent out e-mails with case updates and mounted a letter-writing campaign.

In a jailhouse interview in 2007, Binkley told The Chronicle that he was tormented by visions from his military service, saying he shot a teenage boy while on a drug interdiction mission in Honduras, and was haunted by the smell of decomposing bodies in a Bosnian mass grave.

The only way to deal with the nightmares, Binkley said, was to take painkillers that had been prescribed for a fractured pelvis and dislocated hip he suffered in an off-duty run on a beach in Honduras.

E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@sfchronicle.com

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