Last summer, Anita G. Whitlock, 43, was an assistant cashier at the Riggs National Bank's busy Dupont Circle branch, having risen from the secretarial ranks to become the first woman sent by the company to a prestigious graduate banking school.

That was before she walked into the bank's vault and stole $85,000 in cash last Aug. 4 - an event that ended her banking career, placed her in the position of being a $109-a-month welfare recipient, and got her convicted in federal court on bank embezzlement charges.

Yesterday, Whitlock was sentenced to three years' probation - seen by many as an unusually light sentence for an employe who has dipped so deeply into a bank's till - but a term that reflected the unique aspects of the crime, its perpetrator and her trial.

Whitlock's attorneys claimed at the trial, that her theft of the money - which she said yesterday she does not remember - was a result of a mental illness, specifically her depression over what she perceived as an unhappy home life and a family illness.

The unsuccessful attempt to use emotional depression as a defense in a fraud trial was highly unusual and raised in court the question of whether personal emotional pressures can mount to the point where they can become a legitimate defense to white-collar crimes.

Insanity defenses are most frequently raised in crimes of violence where a person claims his crime was a direct result of mental illness. Under the current law, it must be proved that the mental disease or defect was present at the precise time the offense was committed, and that at that time the defendant was unable to conform his conduct to the law.

Whitlock's attorneys said she was in that situation when she took the money. They argued that she should have known she would ultimately be caught because of the simplistic manner in which she stole and that the theft amounted to a psycholtic episode for which she was not legally responsible.

her personal psychiatrist, who has been treating her for depression for 16 years, said the act amounted to a form of professional suicide. He said Whitlock had told him at the time of the offense that she expected to be caught and that she wanted to show everyone "what a horrible person she was."

Two government psychiatrists and one government psychologist said, however, the personal psychiatrist was too involved in Whitlock's case and that he was wrong when he said her depression was serious enough to make her criminally irresponsible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Spivack argued to U.S. District Judge June Green at the trial that an acquittal of Whitlock "would be giving a license a steal" to anyone who had ever been treated for a mental illness such as depression and then committed a crime.

"I'm not denying she's depressed," Spivack argued. But he argued that her actions were that of a distressed person instead of a psychotic person.

At the sentencing yesterday, Spivack urged that Whitlock be imprisoned for a short term as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to take large sums of money from their employers. He said she had tried to point the to someone else when the theft was discovered, and put some of her coworkers under suspicion.

In addition to saying she had no memory of the crime. Whitlock said her belief that her only punishment would be a suspension from the bank was another example of her "frame of mind" at the time of the offense.

When Judge Green asked her plans for the future, Whitlock replied first "Jump off a bridge, I guess." Then she added, "I am currently sick, we all know that, and currently on welfare, which kills me." She said she hoped to go to school to refresh her secretarial skills and look for a secretarial job.

According to court records. Whitlock lock has fired her trial attorney with the accusation that he failed to do all he could to get her acquitted, and has written a letter to her probation officer in which she said "I do not feel guilty or sorry" and said her conviction on the embezzlement charge amounted to an "execution or killing."

According to trial testimony. Whitlock told the FBI she stole the money so she could persuade her mother to leave her father. However, when she presented the money to her mother, she was instead met with the reaction that her parents did not want a separation, according to testimony.

The government said she ultimately used the money to pay off some personal debts, deposited some in her personal accounts, and stashed some into a bedroom closet for safekeeping. She has since made full restitution of the amount she actually spent, and the rest has been recovered by the bank.