A Sonoma County Superior Court jury began deliberating this afternoon in the trial of a former Santa Rosa police officer charged with robbing four armored car couriers at banks in the North Bay.Robert Steven Starling, 35, admits he robbed three couriers in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol and tried to rob a courier outside a bank in Novato, Deputy Public Defender Jeff Mitchell told the jury during his closing argument this morning. The bank bag in the Novato case was empty.Starling also is charged with four enhancements for personal use of a firearm, each of which carries a 10-year prison term. Starling, however, testified that he used a “fake” Airsoft gun that fires round, plastic pellets. Mitchell argued that the Airsoft gun does not fit the legal description of a firearm because it does not use an explosion to fire projectiles. The Airsoft gun uses compressed gas or springs to shoot the pellets, Mitchell said.Deputy District Attorney Marianna Green told the jury during her closing argument this morning that the couriers who were robbed are familiar with firearms and described the gun used in the robberies as a black, semi-automatic weapon.She said Starling held the gun 18 inches from the couriers’ faces during the heists outside the banks and that police found Starling’s black, semi-automatic Sig Sauer handgun in his Windsor home. Green told the jury phone calls Starling made from Sonoma County jail show he made up the fake gun defense after the robberies “to avoid the consequences of his crimes.””This case is very simple. Is there any reason to believe the fake gun story?”, Green asked.Andrew Cooper Esslinger, 27, of Santa Rosa, was held over for trial for participating in two of the robberies. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Starling in return for a six-year prison sentence. Esslinger testified he saw Starling put a black, semi-automatic handgun in his duffel bag before at least one robbery.Police estimate that Starling stole more than $500,000 in the three successful robberies between Sept. 27, 2007, and May 18, 2009.
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