Robert Preece

A Utah man accused of going on a crime spree after being accidentally released from jail last September appeared in federal court Wednesday to plead not guilty to charges.

Robert Douglas Preece was led into the courtroom before U.S. Magistrate Paul Warner in chains. His arms were covered with blue tattoos.

Warner asked if he was Mr. Preece. "I am your honor," he responded. Preece also confirmed that he understood his rights.

Preece then indicated to the court that he could not afford to hire an attorney, because he had only $80 to his name and had not worked in about five months.

Warner appointed federal public defender Scott Williams as Preece's attorney. Having conferred with Williams, Preece pleaded not guilty to eight counts of robbery, armed bank robbery, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Preece, a convicted killer, was indicted by a federal grand jury nine days after he was arrested in Portland, Ore. He was found sleeping in a stolen car. Preece had been on the run since being released accidentally from the Salt Lake County Jail on Sept. 18 due to a paperwork error. During his time on the run, police say he robbed a gas station, a check cashing store and a sandwich shop and twice robbed a bank. Preece is accused of using a black handgun during the crimes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Kendall said Preece faces maximum penalties of between 15 to 25 years in federal prison for seven counts and a minimum-mandatory seven-year sentence for one count.

Preece faces similar robbery charges in state court. Williams said those charges are expected to be dropped in preference of prosecuting his client in federal court. At this point, Williams said his client was waiving his chance to be released from jail given the violent nature of the charges.

A trial has been scheduled for Feb. 4 with a deadline for any plea deals by Jan. 14.

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