CROWN POINT | Billy Covington said Monday he robbed two banks in Illinois and Munster in a three-day period in 2010, hoping to commit suicide by cop after post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder took him down a dark path during which he unsuccessfully tried to hang himself.
Instead, the 57-year-old Desert Storm veteran from Harvey now faces a prison term of two years for the robbery of the First Midwest Bank branch in Munster and four years for robbing an Illinois bank. The terms are to be served consecutively.
Covington appeared for sentencing Monday in Lake Criminal Court. He pleaded guilty in March to robbing the Munster bank March 9, 2010. He previously was sentenced by a federal judge for the Illinois bank robbery.
Monday's sentencing before Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez was laced with regrets, apologies, admonishments and what Vasquez called “a break.”
Defense attorney Scott King submitted documents Friday detailing mitigating circumstances in an effort to persuade Vasquez to reduce Covington’s sentence to 18 months in prison and make the term concurrent with his federal sentence.
Among those documents were military records that indicate Covington served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in 1991, after enlisting in 1987, and experienced PTSD with flashbacks and nightmares even before returning to the United States. He received a general discharge, rather than an honorable discharge, because he fought with a first sergeant during one of those episodes, Covington said in court.
In asking for the maximum four-year prison term, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haynes said, “We don’t do very well for our veterans. ... As a result, some turn to drugs, alcohol or bank robbery, as in Mr. Covington’s case. ... These are mitigating circumstances, but it doesn’t excuse his actions.”
Haynes said if Covington hadn’t been caught in the Illinois robbery, “the Indiana case might never have been solved.”
During his statement to the court, Covington apologized to “the lady in the bank and whoever was in the bank (during the robbery)."
"If the police had showed up and started firing, not only could I have died, but so could other people who had nothing to do with it," he said.
Vasquez said he considers bank robbery a big deal.
"A lot of thought went into your sentence by a federal judge," he said. "When you have structure (as in the military), you do well.”
The judge also said he realized Covington had seen things in combat he's "never seen and can’t imagine."
"A lot of people have bipolar or are schizophrenic and don’t commit criminal offenses. They get help," Vasquez said. "It comes down to your decision to get help.”
In pronouncing the two-year consecutive prison sentence, Vaquez told Covington, “It’s a break for you.”