After making the difficult decision to testify against his uncle about their month-long bank robbery spree last year, a 19-year-old man was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in federal prison, a sentence that a judge said “troubles” him but was necessary.

Kiefah Marbra, of Madison, pleaded guilty in January to eight counts of bank robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. He told U.S. District Judge William Conley that he only wanted to focus on the harm he had caused during the eight Madison-area robberies, which he carried out in January and February 2018 with his uncle, Jonathan Thompson.

“I wish I had not put people in harm’s way,” Marbra said, “because they did not deserve any of this.”

Conley said the armed bank robbery spree was a sudden turn from Marbra’s history as a juvenile of mostly non-violent property crimes. He said Marbra, who is easily influenced by others, “was groomed and used by his uncle” to commit the robberies.

“What I can’t get my arms around, uncle or no uncle, is why you thought this would end up well,” Conley said. “What part of this behavior did you think was going to pay off in the long term?”

While Conley found Marbra’s willingness to commit the robberies concerning, “it troubles me to sentence you to as much as I did,” he said. A mandatory minimum sentence for the brandishing conviction and the sheer number of robberies left him no choice, however.

“You can grow up in prison for better or worse,” Conley told Marbra. “I hope you can find a better path.”

With Marbra entering banks and Thompson acting as the getaway driver, Marbra and Thompson robbed in 2018: Chase Bank, 4513 Milwaukee St., on Jan. 26; Associated Bank, 3002 Fish Hatchery Road, on Jan. 30; Old National Bank, 302 N. Midvale Blvd., on Feb. 2; Associated Bank, 1720 Monroe St., on Feb. 8; Old National Bank, 1516 W. Main St. in Sun Prairie, on Feb. 13; Associated Bank, 2420 Allen Blvd. in Middleton, on Feb. 19; Wells Fargo Bank, 6622 University Ave. in Middleton, on Feb. 22; and U.S. Bank, 4602 East Towne Blvd., also on Feb. 22.

A third man, Robert Minette, 32, of Shakopee, Minnesota, robbed Old National Bank, 216 Cottage Grove Road, on Jan. 8, 2018, with Thompson alone and took part in the Jan. 26 robbery at Chase Bank, but stopped after that. He was sentenced in March to nine years in prison.

Thompson, 31, who was found guilty by a jury in January of nine counts of bank robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm, is scheduled to be sentenced by Conley on April 24.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Stephan called the bank robbery spree “violent and extremely dangerous crimes,” but said it’s unlikely Marbra would have committed the crimes had Thompson not recruited him. Nonetheless, he said, Marbra willingly participated — saying at first that he was coerced, but admitting later that he was not.

Marbra “ended up doing the right thing,” Stephan said, by testifying against his uncle.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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