Wife's illness, husband's addiction led to robberies
MADISON—Jeane Taylor held her head in her hands as Judge William Conley sentenced her husband to two years in federal prison Thursday afternoon.
Throughout the hearing, Taylor had dabbed at her eyes with tissues she held by a thumb—the only digit left on each hand. A floor-length black and white dress covered her prosthetic legs.
When Jeane Taylor started having abdominal pains five years ago, she and her husband, Tony D. Taylor, 36, were happily married in Utah, where they lived with their two young sons.
That pain spiraled into a devastating medical crisis that would cost Jeane her legs and fingers and leave Tony so desperately addicted to painkillers that he would rob more than 20 pharmacies across three states for the drugs, according to police.
Tony Taylor's string of robberies, which authorities said included five in Rock County, began when he moved the family to Delavan for a job last winter.
It ended when Taylor was arrested in April after he tried to rob a DeForest pharmacy for oxycodone.
“He just couldn't kick it,” Jeane Taylor said of her husband's addiction. “He's a good man … but drugs really mess you up.”
The two-year sentence handed down Thursday in U.S. District Court in Madison came after a hearing in which Conley openly wrestled to reconcile what he called a “heartbreaking” story with the “stunning series of brazen robberies” Tony Taylor committed.
In one exchange with Taylor's attorney, William Lieberman, Conley said people still need to be punished, even if addiction led to their crimes.
“Punishment is only one factor” to consider in determining a sentence, Lieberman pointed out.
“Agreed, counselor,” Conley responded. “That's why we're struggling here today.”
Lieberman detailed the family's story in a memorandum submitted to the court before Thursday's hearing.
Jeane Taylor fell ill in 2008, but it took six visits to doctors before they realized she had suffered from ovarian torsion. She contracted toxic sepsis and spent months in the hospital, eventually leading to the amputations.
When she returned home, Tony Taylor took care of Jeane, regularly carrying her and her wheelchair up and down stairs or around their house. That's what started Tony's back pain.
“He began self-medicating with opiates prescribed, in abundance, to his wife,” Lieberman wrote.
That soon accelerated into a full-on addiction.
Taylor sought help to get off the drugs, his attorney wrote, but when he lost his job in Utah and had to move the family to Wisconsin for another one in 2012, it threw off the methadone treatment he had been receiving.
Desperate to avoid the debilitating effects of an opiate withdrawal, Taylor began robbing pharmacies around Wisconsin to get his fix.
He would go on to rob pharmacies around Dane and Rock counties, as well as ones in Illinois and Nebraska.
One of the Janesville pharmacies Taylor struck in the spring, a Walgreens on Milton Avenue, was robbed again last week by another man, police said.
In many of the robberies, Taylor walked into stores wearing a hood and handed pharmacists a note demanding oxycodone or other opiates.
“It's the stupidest thing I ever did in my life—flat out,” Taylor said, sitting at the defense table in a blue Dane County Jail jumpsuit Thursday.
Federal prosecutors charged Taylor with nine counts of robbery of a pharmacy soon after he was caught in April. He pleaded guilty to one count as part of an agreement that saw the other eight dismissed but considered at sentencing.
Lieberman asked that Conley sentence Taylor to six months in prison, citing his family's history and Taylor's profound regret for what he did.
“I can't help but think of my family across that counter,” Taylor said. “I grew up without a father, and that cycle was supposed to end with me.”
Conley did not want to discount Taylor's addiction or the pain he and Jeane had been through in the past five years, but he said the family's plight was not the only thing he had to weigh.
While the two-year sentence he ultimately handed down was well below what federal guidelines call for, it was closer to the 27 months prosecutors requested.
Taylor also will spend three years on extended supervision after his prison time and pay more than $18,000 in restitution for the value of the medication he stole from area pharmacies.
Conley further ordered that Taylor spend his time at a federal prison close to his family, which has since moved back to Utah.
With Taylor still facing charges outside the federal court system for robberies committed elsewhere—including an open case in Rock County Court—Conley decided his federal prison time should run concurrent to any sentence imposed by another judge.
Conley then spoke directly to Taylor, telling him that while time in prison was the “price for your conduct,” Taylor should remember the family that will depend on him when he gets out.
“You need to look forward,” Conley told Taylor.