Iraq War veteran enters insanity plea in Calif. bank robberies
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. — A former Marine sergeant diagnosed with mental illness following his military service pleaded innocent by reason of insanity Thursday for two local bank robberies in 2011.
Marco Lopez, 29, who did two combat tours in Iraq, robbed two banks on consecutive days in northeast Fresno and Clovis.
He was advised Thursday by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Alan Simpson that he could be sent to a mental hospital for the rest of his life.
His lawyer, Michael McKneely, said Lopez is prepared for that sentence.
Lopez received an honorable discharge in June 2005 after serving four years in the Marines, but the horrifying experience of hearing bombs explode and being shot at left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, McKneely said. He also has a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
In a recent interview with The Bee, Lopez said he didn't have mental illness when he graduated from Clovis West High School and joined the Marines in 2001. He said his job was to seek out the enemy and confront them ahead of the main division.
Last year, Lopez was charged with robbing the State Center Community College District Credit Union on Willow Avenue in Clovis and Wells Fargo Bank on Friant Road in Fresno in October 2011.
Both robberies occurred under strange circumstances. Lopez banked at Wells Fargo in the morning, returned later in the day with a note that he was robbing the bank and left with money. He returned after police reopened the bank 90 minutes later to bank again, McKneely said.
He wasn't arrested until after the Clovis credit union robbery the following day.
His mother drove him to the credit union that day, not knowing Lopez had prepared a note to hand to the teller, McKneely said. He walked out of the credit union as if nothing was amiss and his mother drove him home.
Money stolen from the two banks was found in his bedroom and in a stolen truck used in the Wells Fargo robbery. The truck was found by police a few doors away from Lopez's home, Mc-Kneely said.
Lopez spent time in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fresno, his lawyer said.
The VA hospital kept him for six days about a month before his arrest, court reports said.
In December, Judge D. Tyler Tharpe declared Lopez legally incompetent to assist in his defense, court records show.
Lopez's mental health will be evaluated by two doctors. They will return to court with their results in December.
His case gained public attention after his family told President Barack Obama in a letter that Lopez wasn't getting the drugs he needed in Fresno County Jail. McKneely said Lopez's care has improved substantially since then.
Lopez has been at Atascadero State Hospital, where he was given anti-psychotic medication, records show.
"He still has mental illness issues," McKneely said. "He has received excellent care in the VA and state hospital, but he has a long way to go."