Valley war veteran pleads insanity to bank robbery charges

October 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Valley veteran is pleading insanity to criminal charges for robbing two banks.

Marine Sgt. Marco Lopez landed in jail just after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and later got help with his condition from the President of the United States.

Sgt. Lopez doesn't deny that he robbed two banks and he's very apologetic about the crimes. But Lopez says he wasn't in his right mind at the time and some legal analysts tell Action News one thing that happened really supports his claim.

Marco Lopez is undeniably the unarmed man seen in surveillance footage, robbing a Wells Fargo branch last October. The next day, he robbed the State Center Credit Union in Clovis. No question about it. Lopez did it, and he admits it. But Thursday, he pleaded not guilty to the crimes -- not guilty by reason of insanity.

"Last year, I was very mentally unstable," Lopez told Action News. "Very manic, very... just chaotic thoughts going through my head."

Lopez is describing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He's a Marine sergeant and he served two tours of duty in the Iraq War, scouting out ambushes in front of the front lines.

When he came home, his parents say they started seeing changes and a month before the bank robberies, they had him committed to Fresno's VA hospital. Several attorneys tell me that commitment could be a big boost to the insanity plea.

"This doesn't sound to me like someone who's malingering or faking an injury to come up with an excuse for his conduct," said defense attorney Charles Magill. "It seems to me this young man is clearly not responsible for what he's accused of doing."

Lopez's condition started to improve after he was arrested, but only after President Obama stepped in in response to letters from family members. The VA kept him for 53 days, treating his symptoms with prescription drugs and frequent counseling. Months later, it would be hard to question his sanity, or his contrition.

"[I'm] very sorry for what I've done first off, just wanted to mention that, and I hope everything settles for the best," Lopez said.

He said he's willing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor so he can keep a job in defense contract work. He's due back in court in December.


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