Authorities say Navy hero turned into bank robber
By Jeff Baenen
ST. PAUL -- In 1987, Mark Samples was a hero, honored by the Navy for life-saving bravery aboard the U.S.S. Stark after it was hit by Iraqi missiles.
Fourteen years later, in May 2001, court papers say, Samples robbed a Red Wing credit union where he was a regular customer of nearly $70,000, made his getaway on a bicycle, then spent hours huddled in the Mississippi River, feeling suicidal.
His attorney blames post-traumatic stress and depression for Samples' downward spiral, but a plea agreement fell apart Friday over whether the judge could show the former Navy hero some leniency.
Defense attorney Robert Richman contends that last May's robbery of the Red Wing Credit Union was an "irrational moment" for Samples, 38.
"The acts of heroism led to his post-trauamtic stress disorder which -- when aggravated by drugs prescribed by doctors employed by the same government who is now prosecuting him -- led to this bank robbery," Richman said.
Family members and friends have sent letters asking for clemency.
"My cousin has already paid very dearly with his physical and mental health to this country. He has seen things I hope to never see and has had more pain than I ever hope to experience," wrote Julia A. Vande Linde of Dunbar, W.Va.
Samples, then 24, was aboard the Stark in the Persian Gulf on May 17, 1987, when the ship was struck by two Iraqi missiles in what Iraq said was a case of mistaken identity. Thirty-seven sailors were killed.
Samples moved several Stinger missiles from the path of spreading fires, then made his way below deck to try to rescue those trapped by the fire, according to court papers filed by his attorney.
For his actions, Samples was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, a peacetime award for heroism. He stayed with the Navy until April 1990, then transferred to the Navy Reserves.