Amid assertions that government prosecutors breached a plea agreement, attorneys for a man who pleaded guilty to raiding a South Jordan mink farm are asking that the man's sentencing be postponed until January.
Arguments were made Friday on the future of the case of William James Viehl, 23, in a motion hearing before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.
Viehl, 23, was expected to be sentenced Nov. 12 to six months in prison for damaging and interfering with animal enterprises during a September raid on the McMullin mink farm in South Jordan.
Investigators believe Viehl and Alex Hall, 21, released as many as 650 minks in the raid and also vandalized a number of buildings on the property.
A six-month sentence, consistent with the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines, was agreed upon in exchange for a guilty plea from Viehl.
But after hearing arguments in November, Benson indicated that he saw the raid as an act of terror and intimidation, which needed to be met with a more serious prison sentence.
"I recognize the government's recommendation for six months, but I don't agree with it," Benson said. "I can't be as lenient as six months. I'm inclined to go … to two years, maybe more," the judge said. "This sentence has got to be a deterrent, a message sent to other people."
Viehl filed a motion on Dec. 3, arguing that statements made by federal prosecutors during the first sentencing hearing amounted to a breach of his plea agreement and asked that Benson remove himself from the case and reassign it to another judge for sentencing.
Viehl's attorney, Heather Harris, said prosecutor John Huber "violated the plea agreement at almost the very outset by complaining about the (sentencing) guidelines" and by trying to re-classify Viehl's crime as one of malice and threats, with the intent of eliciting a more severe sentence.
During the November sentencing hearing, Huber told Benson that although Viehl's actions were classified as a property crime by the sentencing guidelines, the impact of his misconduct was much more sinister than simple vandalism.
Harris said she was caught totally off guard by a slideshow presentation and the "trigger language" she said Huber used to encourage a more serious sentence.
"If you're supporting something, you aren't complaining about it," Harris said. "You can't say that you're going to recommend the low end of the guideline range and then complain about it. You can't do that. It's not within the appropriate parameters."
In a rebuttal filed in court Dec. 9, prosecutors defended their actions by saying they were merely attempting to defend the agreed-upon six-month recommendation because Harris filed a late memorandum advocating for early release from custody, credit toward incarceration time and a full 25 percent reduction from the prosecutor's recommended sentence.
Huber said in court Friday that he continues to stand by the six-month sentence. He said Benson is unique as a judge in that he often sentences below recommendations, and Huber had no reason to believe Benson wouldn't grant the defense's request that Viehl be allowed to leave the sentencing a free man.
Benson clarified that he entered the November hearing with his "own point of view" and his mind made up that six months wasn't enough but needed to determine whether Huber had breached the agreement.
After hearing arguments from both sides Friday, Benson said he would take the case under advisement and announce his decision in the near future.
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