SAN DIEGO - A Riverside County man on probation for burglary when he and two others broke into Del Mar Heights Elementary School at night, stealing iPads and other electronic devices, was sentenced Friday to four years in state prison.
Thomas Earl Burleson, 21, was convicted last month of burglary, receiving stolen property and possession of burglary tools.
Despite saying Burleson is a gang member, prosecutors dismissed an allegation before trial that the school break-in was committed for the benefit of a street gang.
Superior Court Judge Louis Hanoian denied a defense request to "strike" Burleson's 2012 burglary conviction, noting his criminal history -- which includes robbery and auto theft - dates back to 2006.
"You steal to support yourself," the judge told the defendant. Hanoian refused to impose an aggravated sentence of six years requested by prosecutors, calling Burleson's latest brush with the law an "average crime."
The defendant's fiancee, Tamara Wright, who is due to give birth to Burleson's child in October, begged the court for a more lenient sentence.
"I want him (the defendant) to be a part of my child's life," Wright told the judge.
Burleson reiterated that he wanted to get out of custody as soon as possible to be with his fiancee and baby.
"I know that what I did was wrong," Burleson told the court.
Co-defendant Trevor J. Williams, also 21, was sentenced earlier this month to seven years behind bars and Eyon Zimmerman, 19, was sentenced to five years in prison in connection with thefts at nine San Diego County schools over a two-month period. Both defendants pleaded guilty to burglary charges, and admitted the gang allegation.
Authorities said the thefts began last Nov. 18.
Some of the defendants used their cell phones in the area of the schools the nights of the break-ins, according to previous court testimony.
The defendants were arrested Jan. 30 at a Temecula-area Border Patrol checkpoint. The iPads stolen from the Del Mar school earlier that morning or the night before were recovered from the defendants' car, along with a laptop
computer, bolt cutters and a projector.
Graduate Law Clerk Meredeth Kimble, arguing for the prosecution, told the judge that break-in at the Del Mar school was well-planned, with the defendants driving from Riverside to San Diego to commit the crime.