SANTA CRUZ -- Two young brothers charged with 16 counts of residential burglary -- most from breaking into San Lorenzo Valley homes -- entered a plea bargain Friday and are expected to be sent to prison.
Brandon Chip Smith, 19, and Lawrence James Smith, 20, were arrested in November 2011 on suspicion of committing burglaries throughout the county.
After entering no-contest pleas Friday, Brandon Smith is expected to be sentenced to eight years in prison and his older brother to 10 years.
Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputies said the two were involved in an eight-month crime spree in the San Lorenzo Valley as well as in Soquel, South County and in Bonny Doon, stealing jewelry, electronics, music equipment and cash from homes.
They said heroin use was a factor in the thievery and that they were caught when home surveillance equipment captured an image of Brandon Smith. A deputy recognized him a few days later.
Friday, each pled no contest to seven counts of burglary and prosecutors dismissed several other counts for each.
Both would be eligible for release after serving 50 percent of those sentences. First-degree residential burglary is considered a serious, yet not violent, felony.
Judge Paul Burdick set sentencing for April 30. He said probation officers would be contacting victims to obtain impact statements.
Prosecutor Sara Dabkowski said her office offered Brandon Smith a lesser sentence because he was cooperative with sheriff's investigators, even driving around with them and pointing out which homes they broke into.
Dabkowski said she believes the settlement holds them responsible and protects the community.
"They had a big impact on the valley area," she said. "And unfortunately, many of the items stolen were irreplaceable. Some of them were family heirlooms."
Defense attorney Marta Cadloni, who represents Brandon Smith, said she had hoped for probation because her client was only 18 when arrested, had a drug problem and cooperated fully with deputies. But a judge would have had to make a special finding for that, and that was an uphill battle with so many counts facing him, she said.
"He's a really sweet kid who always wanted to take responsibility and didn't want to put people through a trial," Cadloni said. "An officer who testified at the (preliminary hearing) said he seemed truly sincere and remorseful."
She said her client was abandoned by his mother when he was an infant. He did not spend all his childhood with his father, but was living with him in an apartment on Laurel Street in Santa Cruz when arrested, she said.
A third man arrested in the case, 21-year-old John Matthew Johnston, was accused of committing three burglaries with the Smiths and admitted to one count shortly after his arrest, Dabkowski said.
He was sentenced to five months in County Jail and placed on probation, she said.
Jail records show he is still in custody after an arrest Oct. 9, 2012 on Granite Creek Road on suspicion of second-degree burglary and a probation violation.
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