Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ex-Army officer with PTSD found not guilty by reason of insanity

Ex-Army officer with PTSD found not guilty by reason of insanity

By Tracey Kaplan

Mercury News

Posted: 01/13/2009 01:04:51 PM PST

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Jan 6:
Fisher: Band of brothers supports vet on trialIn a potential landmark case for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a Santa Clara County jury Tuesday found a former Army captain diagnosed with PTSD not guilty by reason of insanity for robbing a Mountain View pharmacy of drugs at gunpoint.

The jury's verdict means that West Point graduate Sargent Binkley of Los Altos will be treated for the disorder in a state hospital or as an outpatient rather than face 12 to 23 years behind bars.

"It's great news he's getting treatment,'' said Dr. Tom Berger, a leading PTSD expert with the Maryland-based Vietnam Veterans of America who testifies frequently before Congress. "PTSD shouldn't be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but studies have shown that at least 20 percent of veterans have it, and their problems need to be addressed.''

The atmosphere in the courtroom Tuesday morning was tense as the same jury that had convicted Binkley, 34, earlier this month of using an unloaded service revolver three years ago to rob a Walgreen's of prescription drugs, came back in the sanity phase of the trial to announce its decision.

Binkley, who served in Bosnia and Honduras, and his father, a retired Los Altos engineer, both burst into tears as the verdict was read and enfolded each other in bear hugs. Binkley, who has been in a residential drug-treatment program after serving two years in county jail awaiting trial, was immediately taken into custody. He will be evaluated by


court-appointed mental health professionals, who will recommend to the judge the duration of his psychological treatment.

But even Binkley's incarceration Tuesday did not dampen the mood among his elated supporters, including a small group of U.S. Military Academy alumni who had been in court continually since the Jan. 20, 2006 crime.

"It's a great day for our veterans who have come back suffering from PTSD,'' said Vietnam veteran Alan Lubke, West Point class of 1961, "to now know they can receive justice.''

One of Binkley's attorneys thanked the jury outside the Hall of Justice courtroom. "What this case means is that the jury stood behind a soldier,'' said defense attorney Charles J. Smith. "We strongly believe that soldiers should get preferential treatment if they come back with problems after their service to our country.''

The case has particular resonance because there have been at least 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed killings or were charged with one, after their return home from war. Combat trauma and substance abuse figured in many.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has been around since the Trojan War, Dr. Berger said, but under a different name, from ''exhaustion'' in the early 19th century to ''shell-shock'' in World War I. Recognized as a mental disorder in the 1980s with symptoms including substance abuses, major studies, including a recent RAND report, have found the rate of PTSD rises with the kind of repeated tours of duty that members of the National Guard and the reserves have endured during the current conflicts(cq).

Binkley still faces charges for a second robbery he is accused of committing six weeks after the first offense, in San Mateo County. Prosecutors there are weighing their options, including not contesting Binkley's insanity plea or proceeding with the case as planned.

Tuesday's insanity verdict turned on testimony by at least five court-appointed doctors about Binkley's mental state. All noted that the former soldier was addicted to opiates and two said he had PTSD.

The Santa Clara County prosecutor, Deborah Medved argued that Binkley was sane. She also noted that the law does not allow for a finding of insanity based on addiction alone.

But jurors, who quickly left the courtroom following the verdict, apparently agreed with the defense — that the psychological trauma Binkley experienced as a soldier coupled with the addiction to painkillers he developed after a hip injury in the Army lay behind the crimes. Binkley's father, who said his son has been drug-free for three years, was taking 60 Vicodin a day at the time of his arrest.

Binkley graduated from West Point and served in Bosnia and Honduras before he received a general discharge in 2003. The defense argued that he became traumatized by two events — guarding a mass grave in Bosnia and shooting a teenager in a Honduran drug raid. His father said he became addicted to morphine-based painkillers after dislocating his hip in Honduras while running away from an alcohol-fueled fight over a woman.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at tkaplan@mercurynews.com or (408) 278-3482.


I am saddened by this verdict, veterans with PTSD are not insane, we have issues, hell many of us have full subscriptions, but this does not mean we are insane. We all do not grab guns and rob people or drug stores for the pills, most of us withdraw from the community and become recluses. We don't play well with others and we know this. So we normally avoid contact with people but this does not mean we are all insane, and this verdict will help many prople equate PTSD veterans to being insane and this is just not the truth.

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