A Vietnam veteran who lost an eye and an arm in combat was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in federal prison on his third bank robbery conviction.
Fernando Robert Valdez, 38, of San Diego, who won two Purple Hearts, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Rhoades, who could have given him 20 years.
"This is one of the toughest cases I've had for sentencing," said Rhoades. "There's no question Mr. Valdez has sacrificed much for his country." But the judge said that "does not give him a license to rob banks and terrorize people."
Rhoades noted that Valdez committed bank robberies to support a heroin habit.
Valdez was first convicted in 1976 for robbing a Chula Vista bank and was sentenced to three years in prison. His second conviction in 1981 netted him six years and he served four of those years before his release on parole.
Valdez's third conviction occurred last month in the November robbery of a Security Pacific Bank branch in La Jolla that netted $754.
Eugene Iredale, Valdez's attorney, called Valdez "a hero" in Vietnam. He said his client's drug problem stems from his receiving morphine in a hospital for his wounds and not being properly weaned off the drug.
"I'm not a bad person. I feel I have the capacity to do better," Valdez told the judge.