A former Santa Rosa police officer and his alleged accomplice were ordered to stand trial in Sonoma County Superior Court this afternoon for the robberies of armored car guards in Marin and Sonoma counties. Robert Starling, 35, of Santa Rosa, was held to answer to four robberies: at the Exchange Bank on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa on Sept. 27, 2007; the Bank of America on Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa on April 23, 2008; the Bank of America on Grant Street in Novato on April 15, 2009; and the Bank of America in Sebastopol on May 18, 2009. Police estimated more than $400,000 was stolen. Andrew Cooper Esslinger, 27, of Santa Rosa, was held to answer to the Novato and Sebastopol robberies. In the Novato robbery, Starling allegedly grabbed a bank bag from a cart outside the bank, realized it was empty and fled. Even though no money
was taken, Starling and Esslinger were charged with robbery. Additionally, both men were held to answer to reporting a false
kidnapping in south Novato to a police dispatcher to distract police from the downtown robbery. They are also accused of reporting to Rohnert Park police there was a gun on the campus of the Rancho Cotati High School on March 18, 2009,
prompting police to lock down the campus for several hours. There was no armored car guard robbery that day. Both men also were held to answer to conspiracy to commit robbery charges. Deputy District Attorney Marianna Green said the pattern in the robberies was the same. A suspect armed with a black semi-automatic handgun ran toward the guard and yelled at him to get down on the ground outside the bank. Starling and Esslinger allegedly bought cell phones in Santa Rosa and conducted surveillance of the Novato bank before the heist, Green said. Defense attorneys argued Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gayle Guynup did have jurisdiction to order the suspects to stand trial on charges for the Novato bank robbery in Marin County. Guynup disagreed. She ruled the purchase of the cell phones in Santa Rosa and discussing the robbery before driving to Marin County were preparatory and overt acts in support of the Marin County crime. Starling also was held to answer to weapons possession and intimidating a witness charges and Esslinger was held to answer to possession of cocaine for sale. Both men are being held in the Sonoma County jail and will re-enter pleas to the charges on Feb. 16.
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