A 20-year-old Richland man who prosecutors say was responsible for "dozens and dozens" of vehicle prowls in Richland will spend more than two years in prison.
Hunter Harrison Johnson pleaded guilty this week in Benton County Superior Court to possessing a stolen vehicle, first-degree possession of stolen property and three counts of vehicle prowling.
Johnson admitted to driving a truck that he knew was stolen in June, going through several other vehicles and stealing a ring that was worth more than $25,000.
Johnson was among a group of suspects arrested last fall for similar acts, but got a break for working with police to get stolen guns off the street, said Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts.
"The state was hopeful the defendant would not return to this behavior," McRoberts told Judge Cameron Mitchell. "Unfortunately, he returned to it immediately."
Johnson faced a sentencing range of one year and 10 months to two years and five months in prison. McRoberts said Johnson deserved the top sentence because of his history of vehicle prowling.
He also would have faced additional counts connected to the vehicle prowls if the case had gone to trial, she said.
Defense attorney Dan Arnold acknowledged that his client didn't take full advantage of the break he got earlier this year, but also said it's "entirely speculative" that Johnson was responsible for all the prowling that's happened in Richland.
"That he's done one, is too many. ... That he's done four, is way too many," Arnold said. "In essence, he's getting credit for an indeterminate number."
Johnson was arrested by Richland police in June after officers found a blue Dodge Ram truck at 2555 Duportail on June 13 that had previously been reported stolen, court documents said.
While searching the truck, officers found several items taken in a series of vehicle prowls in south Richland a week earlier, documents said. Among the items found was a wedding ring valued at $25,000, documents said.
Officers found paperwork belonging to Johnson, including his birth certificate and his GED certificate, inside the truck, documents said.
McRoberts told Judge Mitchell that in late 2011 and early 2012 there were more than 100 vehicle prowls in Richland, and Johnson "cooperated somewhat" with police, who recovered lots of property, including stolen guns.
Johnson pleaded guilty in February to first-degree possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen gun, and got a six-month jail sentence. His co-defendant received a two-year prison sentence, McRoberts said.
"The defendant got out of custody after doing six months ... and immediately the city of Richland was dealing with a bunch of vehicle prowls," she said. "From June of this year ... there was a huge spike in vehicle prowls."
McRoberts said Johnson got arrested for attempted vehicle prowling, got out of custody and started prowling vehicles again.
"I don't understand, honestly, after just pleading guilty to similar behavior to just go out and indiscriminately steal from people," McRoberts said. "It appears it's just what he does on the weekend."
Arnold countered that Johnson wasn't the one leading the crime and was a relatively minor player in the cases charged earlier this year.
"He somewhat undercut my argument and my faith in him when he repeated this when he got out," Arnold said. "But I've spent a lot of time with him. I've had him keeping a journal. ... He said, 'I don't seem to have empathy for people when I'm stealing.' "
Arnold said Johnson has hopes of being a chef and going to culinary school. He admitted he is disappointed Johnson didn't change his behavior, but what he was pleading guilty to "comes down to one week of the same behavior."
Arnold asked for the bottom-end sentence.
"For what it's worth, I want to make a personal plea for Hunter. He is better than this. I've told him I still believe in him and I want him to have a chance to prove that to me and this court, sooner rather than later," he said.
Johnson told Judge Mitchell that he's been trying to get his values back in order and he's keeping the journal to help him do that.
"I did the crimes and I apologize," he said. "I'm ready to accept the punishment."
Mitchell said Johnson's actions support a prison sentence of two years and five months, which is the most he could hand down.
"It's very troubling to this court. It appears that Johnson had been given the opportunity to justify the faith that Mr. Arnold still has for you," Mitchell said.
"This court is not persuaded. ... You demonstrated little concern for the court, the justice system and, quite frankly, the prosecutor and your attorney."