Former Army Ranger Sargent Binkley is well on his way to a new life since he robbed a Mountain View Walgreens five years ago for painkillers to numb his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and pain from a hip injury.
After serving a 10-month sentence at Atascadero state mental hospital last year, 35 year old Los Altos resident got a job in his defense attorney's office, and last Friday a Santa Clara County judge declared him legally sane.
"Friday was very big day for Sarge," said his attorney, Chuck Smith, who gave Binkley a job in his office last summer. "This thing has worked out so well for him. He was facing more than a dozen years in state prison."
In 2006, Binkley robbed the Walgreens pharmacy at El Camino Real and Grant Road for painkillers with an unloaded gun. His father, who found the stash of painkillers, had Binkley turn himself in. Binkley faced 12 to 15 years in prison for the crime, but was able to serve 10 months in a mental hospital instead because a jury found him guilty but legally insane.
Though he had completed his sentence last year, he was still "technically insane," at least in a legal sense. A Santa Clara County judge changed that last Friday, and wished him well in his new life as a legally sane citizen.
Smith said he got to know Binkley well during the landmark court battle, and Binkley seemed a good fit for the job when he needed to replace his file clerk.
"Obviously, for what I accomplished for him, I knew he was going to be loyal to me, quite frankly," Smith said.
"If I said 'Get your ass Sunday morning at 9 o'clock to do something,' I knew he was going to be here because I'm the reason he's not in prison," Smith laughed. "He works hard for me."
Binkley agreed. "Chuck Smith was very gracious. I owe that man my life and working for him is an honor."
"I enjoy it to a degree," he added. "If anyone is telling you they like their work they are lying," he laughed.
Binkley, who attended Los Altos High School, played for the Mountain View Marauders football team and graduated from West Point military academy, was held up by other veterans as a poster child in the landmark case for soldiers with PTSD in the criminal justice system. Psychiatrists testified at the trial that Binkley developed PTSD during his time in Bosnia, haunted by the smell of the mass graves. He developed an addiction to painkillers after suffering a hip injury in Honduras that he said "never healed quite right."
When asked what he was thinking when he decided to rob Walgreens, he said he had few other options besides suicide. His hip pain, increasing anxiety and PTSD were causing a "complete lack of sleep," he said. He said he also felt that he wasn't getting any help from the VA.
It all boiled down to: "'Maybe I should do this to try and help myself,'" he said.
While Binkley's story has been told many times in the media, he says, "I hope it hasn't defined me as a person."
"In March of 2006 I thought I was all alone," he said. "I truly thought that. But going through this process I saw hundreds of people speak on my behalf. That was so positive. It enabled me to get through the process."
Binkley still sees a therapist at Palo Alto's VA hospital because his PTSD "hasn't magically disappeared," he said.
But he's grateful for his new lease on life. After working in Smith's offices for several months, he's thinking about going to law school. Smith recently promoted him to be his legal assistant.