Binkley guilty on all counts | January 2, 2009 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - January 2, 2009

Binkley guilty on all counts

War veteran who robbed Mountain View pharmacy now faces 12 years in prison

by Daniel DeBolt

A West Point graduate and war veteran was found guilty on all counts Tuesday of robbing pain pills from a local pharmacist at gunpoint.

Sargent Binkley, a 33-year-old Los Altos resident who robbed a Mountain View Walgreens three years ago, faces 12 to 15 years in prison unless a jury finds that he was legally insane during the crime.

On Monday, the jury will hear testimony from six court-appointed psychiatrists. Two of them say Binkley was legally insane during the crime due to the chronic pain he suffers from a war wound, while the other four say he was not.

If the jury finds Binkley was legally insane during the crime, he could be appointed to a state hospital, said deputy district attorney Deborah Medved. If not, the state's minimum sentence for robbery with a firearm is 12 years in prison.

"We don't think that's wrong to ask for special consideration for soldiers," said defense attorney Chuck Smith. "The DA's office has had a different view — they loaded up everything they could against him."

Binkley reportedly became addicted to painkillers while suffering from PTSD and an undiagnosed hip injury he received during his military service. The West Point graduate attended Los Altos High School, where he was thought of as a mellow, athletic honor student.

In January 2006, Binkley 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. He eventually turned himself in.

The jury deliberated for four days before reaching the verdict late Tuesday morning. The deciding factors were whether Binkley "used a gun as defined by law." The defense argued that the gun wasn't brandished in a "menacing way." Smith also argued that Binkley should be charged with robbing one Walgreens employee, not two, as he was charged.

Despite this, the jury decided unanimously to convict on all charges.

"I feel that the jury worked very hard on this verdict," said Medved. "I'm satisfied they came to the right conclusion."

The Mountain View Walgreens pharmacist Binkley robbed, 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's hip fracture went undiagnosed for three years by Veterans Administration doctors, which lead to him being "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."

Binkley has been out on bail and living in a drug treatment facility.

Separate proceedings are underway in San Mateo County for the San Carlos robbery.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by Shelby, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I think the jury was too harsh in this case. As for whether or not he was legally insane, if you have more than one psychiatrist stating that he was, that in & of itself should create enough doubt as to warrant (at least) further investigation. Psychiatry is hardly an exact science, & people need to be reminded of that fact. The unfortunate truth for many victims in a lot of these cases involving chronic pain & pain pill addiction is that while it's far from being a new or recent development, the phenomenon itself hasn't been given the kind of research & attention to it that it deserves, or that other diseases have been given. Medicine is still in its infancy regarding prescription drug addiction and PTSD.

I also don't feel that enough consideration was given to his past as an honor student, athlete, West Point graduate, or to his history of PTSD. We simply can't know what each of us would have done in his situation, & even the pharmacist who was robbed supported Sargent Binkley. The government has never taken care of the victims our own military has created (our soldiers) & I've always thought that the treatment our troops receive~ especially in light of what is asked of them~ has been deplorable. I do not have a background in the military, but have worked in the medical field for almost 20 years. One need only compare any civilian hospital to any veteran's hospital to see what I'm talking about. Sargent Binkley wasn't the only one holding the gun in that pharmacy. His superiors & each one of us was right there next to him. We need to examine everyone's responsibility in this case.

Obviously, what Sargent Binkley did was wrong. As a fellow chronic pain sufferer, I can't imagine the amount of physical & emotional trauma he must have endured to end up in this situation. It should also be obvious, that this is not some weak-willed, self-pitying, hypochondriac we are judging. I don't believe this man should be in prison, but that he should be given medical treatment for all of the conditions he is suffering from, as well as the respect he & all our servicemen & women deserve. He is where is is largely because he fought for our country, didn't receive adequate medical care, & was left on his own to try & cope with his physical & mental pain. Persecuting him now is only adding insult to injury, literally & figuratively.

The saddest part of all of this, is that Sargent Binkley is the real victim here, & is but a fraction of the people who are living in similar situations. They may or may not be in as severe pain or share comparable backgrounds, but chronic pain takes a huge toll on ones physical condition, mental health, & psyche. Unrelieved pain has a devastating impact on the physical, emotional, social, and economic well being of patients and their families & contributes greatly to clinical depression. This man deserves better.

Posted by Army Officer, a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 5, 2009 at 7:51 pm


As a disabled and still serving vet, I cannot agree with your following statement which is simply not true other than for isolated incidents here and there (incidents which are eventually exposed and corrected):

"The government has never taken care of the victims our own military has created (our soldiers) & I've always thought that the treatment our troops receive~ especially in light of what is asked of them~ has been deplorable.

I do agree with you that sufferers of chronic pain are mis-understood since I am one of them. Still, it's a far leap to justify brandishing a hand-gun and robbing not one but several stores. Blinkley served his country no doubt, but seems to have squandered the ideals of what such service means. According to other posts, he was less than a model officer. Hopefully that will explain his prison term.

Posted by Shelby, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 6, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Army Officer;

If you are implying that you have received quality medical care as a veteran, I'm (genuinely) happy & relieved for you. However the care given in general to vets in this country is sub-standard & hardly "isolated incidents here and there (incidents which are eventually exposed and corrected." The government didn't even give decent medical attention to the heroes who risked their lives after 9-11. In my experience, quality medical care for our veterans is the "isolated incident."

As I stated in my previous post, "Obviously, what Sargent Binkley did was wrong." But I maintain that Sargent Binkley (as well as any other criminal suffering from the same diseases) deserves to be treated for the several conditions he is now suffering from, not imprisoned for the same or longer amount of time that most convicted murderers serve. I find it interesting that you condone a long prison sentence for Sargent Binkley when one of the pharmacists who he actually robbed supported him & feels he should not.

To give the impression to the public that veterans are given good health care is doing them a disservice. I do appreciate your service to our country, & wish you all the best with your chronic pain management.

Posted by Vet's Daughter, a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 7, 2009 at 9:13 pm

The VA is "hit or miss" with care. They do their best but fail in many respects as has been noted in the much publicized failures at Walter Reed. Endless streams of paperwork face those are not up to the task. They simply give up and seek solace on the streets. The lucky ones turn to private insurance resources. The unlucky live in parks or prisons.
It is heartbreaking and a national embarassment.
No comrade should be left behind.
This young man has accepted responsibility for his conduct based upon trial testimony. And now he wants the circumstances to be considered in his sentence. This is fair. The crime did not happen in a vaccuum.