A Madison man who planned and carried out the robbery of a small bank in the Sauk County village of Plain in 2014 was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge William Conley said that when Julian Thomas, 41, robbed the People’s Community Bank in Plain on Oct. 7, 2014, he took a leap into violent crime “at an age when he should have known better,” after a long criminal history that had contained little violence.
During the robbery, James Thompson, 29, held two bank tellers at gunpoint, while Thomas escorted another into the bank vault. After getting money from the vault, Thomas twice shot pepper spray into the eyes of the bank employees. He then had them kneel down and put their foreheads on the floor, a moment when, prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum, the bank employees believed they were going to be shot in the backs of their heads.
At one point during the robbery, Thompson poked one of the tellers in the back of the head with the gun barrel to get her to open a cash drawer.
In court, Thomas turned to bank employees in the courtroom and apologized, though he denied during a two-day trial in October that he was involved in the robbery.
“I’m sorry you had to go through what you went through,” he said. “That was horrible. I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”
Asked by Conley whether that apology might ring hollow to the bank staff given that he had taken the case to trial, Thomas said he understood. He added, though, that he’s a “warm-hearted person” who does what he can to help others and his family when he is not incarcerated.
Prosecutors asked for a 32-year prison sentence for Thomas, while in a sentencing memorandum, federal defender Joseph Bugni asked for a 12-year prison sentence. Bugni said in court that a shorter sentence, which would allow Thomas to return to society in his 50s, makes sense because most people don’t commit serious crimes when they reach that age.
Conley was skeptical, however.
“But you don’t see 40-year-old bank robbers,” he said. “This is an anomalous situation.”
Conley sentenced Thomas to 13 years in prison for the robbery and a consecutive seven years for brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
In their sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dan Graber and Corey Stephan wrote that the three-minute robbery was “not a spontaneous, impulsive act.” Instead, they wrote, Thomas had been planning it for a long time down to the smallest detail, including choosing a small bank in a small town where the police response time would be long.
After the robbery, they wrote, Thomas bought a silver Mercedes Benz.
Thompson also of Madison, who pleaded guilty to the robbery and testified at Thomas’ trial, will be sentenced at a later date.