| When Sargent Binkley went to Los Altos High School, he was thought of as a mellow, athletic honor student who wanted to go to West Point. No one ever dreamed he would end up in jail for armed robbery.
But after years of suffering from a painful hip injury he received during his military service, Binkley became addicted to painkillers. In January 2006 he held up the Walgreens pharmacy on the corner of El Camino Real and Grant Road with an unloaded gun. In March he did the same at a Walgreens in San Carlos.
Eventually he turned himself in, and now faces at least 12 years in prison, the state's minimum sentence for robbery with a firearm. A bail hearing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Binkley, a Los Altos resident, has gained support from his former Mountain View Marauders football teammates, who have put up a Web site, supportsarge.org, as part of a campaign to reduce his sentence. They say 12-plus years is unfair when the state's average sentence for murder is 15 years in prison.
After entering West Point in 1993, at the age of 18, Binkley graduated and served as an Army Ranger captain in Bosnia and Honduras. He came back in 2002 with post traumatic stress disorder and a hip fracture that went undiagnosed for three years by Veterans Administration doctors.
The Binkley family was eventually advised to pay out of their own pocket for a high-density MRI of his hip, which found a hairline fracture. Once treated, the pain was finally gone, but by then Binkley was "hopelessly addicted" to painkillers, said his father Ed Binkley.
Binkley also used the painkillers to "self medicate" his PTSD, family members say. He was particularly haunted by two experiences: guarding mass graves in Bosnia, and being ordered to open fire on a truck with a teenager inside during anti-drug operations in Honduras.
"He basically couldn't sleep," his father said. "He would wake up screaming. He could go days without any sleep at all because he was afraid of the dreams. He would self-medicate and knock himself out for two days. It was an extremely emotionally draining experience."
Normally, Binkley would have been sentenced already, but his family decided to go back and retract the guilty plea so the case could go to trial.
With the case going on in both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the Binkleys have become aware of a philosophical difference in the two district attorney's offices. The chief deputy district attorney in San Mateo County has been quoted as saying, "I do not buy that it was the government that got him addicted. That's a type of victimology that I don't subscribe to in this case."
In Santa Clara County, deputy district attorney David Howe said, "We look at every case on its own merits," adding that similar cases would be reviewed to make sure Binkley is sentenced fairly.
Binkley's father pointed to a case in Stanislaus County where a San Jose State football player robbed a pizza parlor at gunpoint. He received three to five years.
But because Binkley turned himself in and initially admitted to the crime, prosecutors have a stronger case. When asked if he believed his son was right to turn himself in, his father said, "Based on the way this has evolved, no I don't. With all of the money we're spending on lawyers and legal issues, we could have gotten into a very good rehab program and solved his problems that way."
Mountain View Walgreens pharmacist Dennis Pinheiro wrote a letter to the court in support of Binkley. According to Pinheiro's description of the event, Binkley was "calm" and "did not use physical or verbal force," though Pinheiro certainly didn't want to test him.
Binkley has been in jail for over a year, partly to prevent him from feeding his addiction. He admits that he deserves some punishment for his crime. Drug and PTSD treatment will likely be factors in his agreement to post bail.
Former Marauders teammate Rafi Youatt said cases like Binkley's will become "more and more an issue as more Iraq vets come back from the war."
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