Joshua Rich

Joshua Rich said his hopeless addiction to heroin prompted him to rob the same Utah County bank three times in about a two-month period.

For those robberies, Congress has mandated he serve 57 years in prison. Rich, 27, will be 84 years old if he ever gets out.

U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson Wednesday became the second Utah federal judge in recent years to speak out and call on Congress to fix a law he called excessive.

"I think we are a great society," Benson said during a sentencing hearing for Rich. "But I do think that this sentencing scheme is too harsh, and I think Congress ought to do something about it."

Benson expressed sympathy for the struggle former federal judge Paul Cassell went through when he was mandated to sentence first-time drug dealer Weldon Angelos to 55 mandatory years in federal prison for dealing marijuana to an undercover officer three times with a gun in his possession.

Cassell publicly opposed Angelos' sentence as excessive and was supported by a number of retired federal judges, former U.S. attorneys and even former attorneys general in opposition to the mandatory laws.

Angelos took his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear his case. This left stand the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that mandatory sentences are constitutional.

Rich and co-defendant Roland Thompson were charged with the armed robbery of a Lehi bank on three occasions. At the time, Rich involved his newlywed wife, Kylee Rich, in helping to plan one of the robberies. This earned the couple the nickname as Utah County's "Bonnie and Clyde." The couple then took some of their loot and spent it on a honeymoon in Las Vegas, according to police. The couple have since said they were driven by drug addiction.

For her lesser involvement in the robberies, Kylee Rich was sentenced to serve one year in prison. Having taken a plea deal, Thompson was sentenced to serve 15 years.

Rich, 27, was also offered and accepted a plea deal, which his attorney said would have resulted in a 32-year sentence, but fought to take back his plea and took his case to trial.

In April, a federal jury found Rich guilty on all counts.

In a letter to Benson, Rich apologized to bank employees for the terror he caused. He cautioned that anyone with a heroin addiction is not only willing to ruin their life but the lives of their family — and willing to destroy "anyone in their path."

Rich remained calm when given his sentence. Outside of court, defense attorney Robin Ljungberg said the judge had little choice in the matter.

"He's not being punished because he robbed a bank; he's being punished because legislation was passed," Ljungberg said.

Benson said given Rich's prior juvenile and adult criminal history, which includes serving prison time for a prior armed robbery, he felt it unlikely that his case would be a prime candidate to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

E-mail: [email protected]