The lawyer for a man accused of a 2010 bank robbery plans to raise the defense at trial that Feliz Vega Jr.’s medication inhibited his ability to distinguish right from wrong.
In a status conference Monday that replaced the scheduled trial, Peter Johnson said he would be calling expert witnesses to prove Vega was mentally incompetent at the time of the robbery.
“What was working on him was negating any ability to form criminal intent,” said Johnson, referring to Vega’s anti-depressant drug Paxil.
But Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms waved away any claims of “involuntary intoxication,” telling Superior Court Sheryl Jolly he would object to any witness testimony that did not directly reflect on Vega’s state of mind when he entered the Bank of America at 1740 Gordon Highway on July 30, 2010.
He warned that he would be recommending the maximum sentence of four consecutive life sentences plus five years if Vega was convicted at trial in early February. Vega is charged with four counts of armed robbery and fleeing and attempting to elude.
Syms said that about a third of clients that make guilty pleas in court say they are on some form of medication. But Syms said this is the first time he’s heard this medication defense because most attorneys know better than to try it.
“What we have with this charade about ‘Paxil made him do it’ is the opposite of taking responsibility,” Syms said.
Syms said that Vega entered through the rear door of the bank about 5 p.m. wearing a ball cap, ski mask and batting gloves. He pointed a paintball gun at four tellers and told them to place cash in a multi-colored happy birthday bag, Syms said.
Vega escaped with almost $12,000 in cash, but one of the tellers had placed a satellite tracking device in the bag that led deputies to his location near Central Avenue. Vega led deputies on a high-speed chase for several blocks before crashing into a fence and a parked car on Starnes Street, Syms said.