Colton Harris-Moore was sentenced Friday to 6-1/2 years in prison and 3 years of probation.
The exploits of Colton Harris-Moore, the gangly Barefoot Bandit who as a wily thief and self-taught pilot eluded police with aplomb from Washington to the Bahamas for two years, ended Friday in a federal courtroom in Seattle, where a judge sentenced him to 6 ½ years in prison and three years of probation.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Harris-Moore, 20, apologized for his actions, saying that “every word and every sentence” of his expressed remorse was “heartfelt.”
His attorneys have asked that he be allowed to serve his sentence — which will run concurrently with a 7 ½-year state sentence — in Washington’s Monroe Correctional Complex.
Speaking clearly from a written text for about six minutes, a pale and khaki-clad Harris-Moore said he was humbled as he came to understand how deeply and how widely his actions had hurt others.
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“What I did could be called daring, but it is no stretch of the imagination to say that I’m lucky to be alive,” he said when asked by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones what advice he would give to young people who admire him.
Harris-Moore also said it was not as if he “just jumped in a plane barefoot and started flying around.”
He said his experiences were terrifying and dangerous.
Further, being in court and being scrutinized by the media, he said, “has been the worst experience of my life.”
Harris-Moore has pleaded guilty to 40 felonies, has cooperated with authorities since his arrest in July 2010, and promised the proceeds of a movie deal to pay for nearly $1.4 million in restitution.
Still, in the past days, his sincerity has been tarnished by the release of a series of recorded emails and phone calls from prison in which he has disparaged law enforcement and bragged about his feats.
While acknowledging he has expressed “a loathing opinion of very few county officials,” Harris-Moore told the court the correspondence had been misconstrued “to show what has sensationally been called an unedited version of Colton Harris-Moore.”
“My ill-thought emails inadvertently caused embarrassment to myself and outrage in the community,” he said. “I regret having said what I did and I apologize to those who were both offended by my words and angered.”
He promised residents of Orcas and Camano islands, where many of his crimes occurred, that he would make things right.
The sentence imposed was the one asked for by federal prosecutors and recommended by U.S. probation officers, even though it was at the high end of the range agreed to in the plea bargain. Assistant U.S. Attorney Darwin Roberts argued that “even if the court finds Mr. Harris-Moore is entirely sincere and apologetic, this is still the right sentence.”
Defense attorney John Henry Browne had asked for a five-year, 10-month sentence.
Browne says that, with credit for time served, Harris-Moore could be out of prison in under five years.
Prosecutors had asked that Harris-Moore not be given credit for the 18 months he’s been in custody, saying that time should go toward a three-year juvenile sentence he was serving when he escaped in 2008. Jones, however, ruled that Harris-Moore was in federal custody, and directed that he should get credit toward his federal sentence.
The sentencing marked the end of nearly a year of legal wrangling over the proper punishment for Harris-Moore, who has now pleaded guilty to 33 state and seven federal felony charges stemming from his career as a fugitive. In that time, prosecutors allege he committed at least 67 crimes, including eight burglaries and the thefts of nine cars and three airplanes.
He mocked police and played Robin Hood, sketching in chalk his trademark “barefoot” footprints at some scenes, and leaving money to care for animals at a veterinary hospital.
The sentencing also marked the end of what Harris-Moore’s attorneys say is a tragic tale of a child who was abused and neglected by an alcoholic mother, and who has pleaded guilty and taken responsibility for his actions.
Jones found that Harris-Moore was the “product of alcoholism and neglect.” But these mitigating factors were “somewhat diminished” by Harris-Moore’s long history of criminal conduct. He noted that Harris-Moore has stood before a judge for sentencing nine times in the past.
Jones warned that it would be different this time. Harris-Moore will be under federal supervision for three years after his release from prison, and Jones said he’ll be sent back to prison if he returns to a life of crime.
Fleeing — and flying
Harris-Moore’s crime spree began in Island County shortly after he escaped in April 2008 from a Renton halfway house, where he was serving time for burglarizing homes on Camano Island.
For more than two years, he evaded capture while committing a string of break-ins and thefts, according to law-enforcement officials. He hid out in the forests of Orcas Island in the San Juans and squatted in the attic of a plane hangar at the island’s airport.
The Internet made Harris-Moore a cult hero, and at one time he had nearly 50,000 followers on his Facebook page, where he would occasionally leave a post written on a stolen laptop.
He eluded a massive manhunt, and police warned that he was dangerous. Among his crimes were the thefts and interstate transportation of at least two stolen handguns, and police say he took an assault rifle from a police car. Harris-Moore taught himself how to fly using flight manuals and a computer flight simulator, according to court documents.
While he was able to get the three planes off the ground and pilot them, sometimes in bad weather, he had a harder time with the landings: Harris-Moore crashed all three of them, acknowledging in defense documents that he very nearly died in a September 2009 crash of a stolen Cessna that went down near Granite Falls in Snohomish County.
At his sentencing, Harris-Moore told Jones his dream of flying was the only thing that saved him from the nightmare of his childhood. The defense suggested — and Jones agreed — that many of his early crimes were likely committed for survival.
But Jones said most of the federal charges were committed “for one specific reason and that was to fulfill your passion for flying at all costs and consequences — a passion that you were willing to risk your life and the lives and property of others,” the judge said. “I hope that you can dedicate that same degree of passion to pursuing your dreams in a legal and productive manner.”
His rap sheet
The federal charges stem from the following crimes:
• Bank burglary, from the Sept. 5, 2009, break-in at Islanders Bank in Eastsound, Orcas Island.
• Interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, from the Sept. 29, 2009, theft of a Cessna from Bonners Ferry, Idaho. He crashed the plane near Granite Falls.
• Interstate and foreign transportation of a stolen firearm, stemming from the theft of a .32-caliber pistol in Canada. Harris-Moore took the handgun into Idaho, then on the plane he crashed near Granite Falls.
• Fugitive in possession of a firearm, after Harris-Moore carried a .22-caliber pistol between Oct. 1, 2009, and May 6, 2010.
• Piloting an aircraft without a valid airman’s certificate, from his theft of an airplane from Anacortes, which he flew to Eastsound, Orcas Island, on Feb. 10, 2010.
• Interstate transportation of a stolen vessel, involving his theft of a 34-foot boat from Ilwaco, Pacific County. He piloted the boat to Oregon on May 31, 2010.
• Interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, stemming from the theft of an airplane July 4, 2010, from Bloomington, Ind. He flew that plane to the Bahamas, where he was ultimately captured.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org