YORK — Sam Peden Harrington’s burglary tool of choice was a tire-iron, which prosecutors say he used to pry open the front doors to homes and steal “everything he could move” – including a boat motor and a deceased woman’s jewelry – from eight York County families and one business in a five-month span.
On Thursday, Harrington, 54, of Laurinburg, N.C., pleaded guilty to 16 burglary and grand larceny charges before uttering an apology his victims would never hear.
“I didn’t know any of the victims,” he said in a York County courtroom. “I’m just sorry I did it. I apologize.”
Once all the charges were read and Harrington entered his guilty pleas, 16th Circuit Court Judge John Hayes sentenced him to 15 years behind bars. He’ll receive credit for the 434 days he has served in a North Carolina prison, incarcerated for eluding police in Gastonia.
His 15-year sentence will run concurrently with his North Carolina sentence, said Deputy 16th Circuit Solicitor Betty Miller. After his release from the N.C. Department of Corrections, he’ll serve his remaining prison time in South Carolina.
From August 2011 to January 2012, York County Sheriff’s deputies investigated a string of break-ins and burglaries in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Clover, York and Lake Wylie in which thousands of dollars of items were stolen.
Sheriff’s detectives were contacted by Gaston County deputies, who found some of the stolen items at a North Carolina pawn shop. Police learned that Harrington had sold the stolen item to the shop and began tracking him.
Police later found a bulk of the stolen items at pawn shops throughout the county, Miller said. They searched Harrington’s house, finding more of the stolen items and a black toboggan, and spoke with one of Harrington’s acquaintances, who Harrington asked to store some of the items.
That acquaintance was not charged, Miller said, because he claimed that he didn’t know the items were stolen.
In January 2012, York and Gaston County deputies swarmed a Gastonia motel where they believed Harrington was staying.
When he saw police waiting for him, Harrington tried to flee, but rammed his car into two police vehicles before moving into oncoming traffic.
He was arrested and charged with eluding arrest and assault with a deadly weapon upon a government official. Some months later, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.
He was extradited to York County in February, where he was served with nearly 20 warrants. Some of those charges were dropped during plea negotiations, Miller said in court Thursday.
Harrington, who Miller said doesn’t suffer from any substance abuse problems, didn’t contest anything she told the judge.
Harrington is on federal probation, Miller said, which did not enter into plea negotiations. The feds can add time to his sentence if they decide to, she said.
Victims were informed about Harrington’s plea before the hearing, Miller said. None of them appeared in court Thursday.
While imprisoned, Harrington disclosed new details about the burglaries, Miller said, including revealing where he stashed some of the stolen property.
Officials are working to return some of those valuables to their rightful owners.
Harrington's criminal history dates to 1976, when he was sentenced to three years' probation in York County for larceny. A year later, he pleaded guilty to three counts of grand larceny, using a car without owner's consent, house breaking and burglary.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A few arrests in South Carolina but no convictions followed through the 1980s. In 1989, he was released from a Mecklenburg County prison after serving four years for several counts of larceny, breaking into a motor vehicle and an attempted escape from prison, according to records with the N.C. Department of Corrections.
In 1993, he was sentenced in York County to 25 years behind bars for multiple grand larceny, criminal conspiracy and burglary charges.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082