Despite his disagreement with a federal law that requires consecutive sentences of at least seven years for brandishing a weapon during a crime, a federal judge on Friday sentenced twin brothers Jack and William Ikegwuonu, both former football standouts, to prison sentences of nearly 10 years for a string of heroin addiction-influenced armed robberies last year.
But U.S. District Judge William Conley also enthusiastically encouraged both of the 29-year-old men to make the most of their time in prison, beyond merely finishing their college degrees, urging them to become well-educated role models for those addicted to drugs like themselves, to other convicts and to other Nigerian-Americans.
He also encouraged them to read extensively, offering several titles, among them “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, a book that Conley said his son recommended. Conley asked them to let him know what they thought of the book once they finish it.
The brothers, both former Madison Memorial athletic stars, pleaded guilty in March to five counts of armed robbery and to a gun-brandishing charge, all related to a series of robberies at Madison-area shops between Nov. 13 and 26. They were arrested soon after the last robbery.
Jack Ikegwuonu received a 9½-year prison sentence, while his brother was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Jack Ikegwuonu was an All-Big Ten Conference cornerback at UW. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, but had never recovered from a knee injury sustained while training for the NFL combine. William Ikegwuonu played football at Northern Illinois.
Both blamed football-related injuries for leading to addictions to opioid painkillers, and then to heroin when they could no longer get the pills they craved. The five robberies, which netted only $1,643, were to feed their addictions to heroin, which was purchased soon after each robbery.
Their lawyers, Anthony Delyea and Syovata Edari, argued that the gun they used, which another addict had left behind in their vehicle, was unloaded and didn’t even work, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Burke said the gun was tested and did work when loaded.
While the gun was displayed to varying degrees during the robberies, videos of the robberies played in court showed that it was not pointed at the store clerks aggressively.
“I never expected to be in a situation like this,” Jack Ikegwuonu told Conley before he was sentenced. “The hardest part for me is living with the knowledge of the effect my actions are having on other people — the victims, the community and my family. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show people who I really am.”
William Ikegwuonu echoed his brother’s sentiments.
“I have a lot of soul searching to do,” he added. “A lot of reflection.”
At issue during the sentencing hearing was whether Conley, in creating a sentence for the armed robberies, could take into account a mandatory consecutive sentence of at least seven years for brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Although Delyea and Edari maintained that he could, and asked Conley to sentence the brothers to little or no time for the robberies, Conley was not convinced.
Conley said he was taking into account recent similarly situated cases when he sentenced Jack Ikegwuonu to 2½ years in prison and William Ikegwuonu to two years for the robberies. To each of those sentences Conley was required to tack on seven years for the gun-brandishing convictions.
The requirement to add on the mandatory minimum consecutive sentence in this case, Conley said, is “unfortunate,” but out of his control.
“I also hope that Congress does something about (the law) and you come back before me and there’s something I can do about it,” Conley said.