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Troubled Vietnam Vet Comes Clean on Past

October 2, 1996

By Pete Donohue

A heroic but troubled Vietnam veteran who surrendered to authorities after nearly a decade on the lam pleaded guilty yesterday to burglary-related charges in a bid to face his future with a clean slate.

Because of the plea to the misdemeanor charges, prosecutors said, [Defendant] will be able to return to his life and wife in Washington State to serve his probation.

“I have to make amends for the things I have done in my life,” said [Defendant], who won praise in 1985 for helping rescue 18 people from a burning building, but admitted in Queens Supreme Court that he stole 50 hypodermic needles from a Queens hospital in 1986.

[Defendant], who has battled drug and alcohol addition brought on by wartime horrors, called on other Vietnam veterans with shady pasts to come clean.

“I’d like other Vietnam veterans to know they have nothing to be ashamed of, “[Defendant] said, his voice choked with emotion. “If they have a past they want to clear up they should do it.”

After years of hiding out, [Defendant], 48, walked into a Queens courtroom and surrendered to authorities in July. He was released on bail.

Under a pact reached by Assistant District Attorney Miriam McEnroe, Queens Supreme Court Justice Seymour Rotker and defense lawyer Todd Greenberg, [Defendant] pleased guilty to two misdemeanors: trespassing and possession of stolen property.

He was sentence to three years probation, which he can serve in Washington State, where he currently lives with his wife. He faced up to seven years in prison on the original burglary charge.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Rotker said, nothing that [Defendant] has been diagnosed as having posttraumatic stress syndrome relating to his 13 months in Vietnam.

[Defendant] said he fled Queens for California in an effort to break his dependency on drugs and alcohol and dodge the pressure of the criminal charges.