Published December 16, 2011
COUPEVILLE, Wash. – The 20-year-old "Barefoot Bandit" was sentenced Friday to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to dozens of charges.
Colton Harris-Moore gained international notoriety while evading police across America in stolen planes, boats and cars during a two-year crime spree.
Judge Vickie Churchill said "this case is a tragedy in many ways, but it's a triumph of the human spirit in other ways." She described Harris-Moore's upbringing as a "mind numbing absence of hope," and believed he was genuinely remorseful and contrite.
Friday's proceedings consolidated cases against Harris-Moore in three Washington state counties. He has already pleaded guilty to federal charges in Seattle and will be sentenced for those crimes early next year. He will serve his state and federal sentences at the same time.
In a statement provided to Judge Vickie Churchill, he said his childhood was one he wouldn't wish on his "darkest enemies."
Still, he said he takes responsibility for the crime spree that brought him international notoriety.
Harris-Moore said he studied manuals and online videos to teach himself to be a pilot, and the thrills he experienced while flying stolen planes renewed his passion for life and will help him rehabilitate while in prison.
"The euphoria of the countdown to takeoff and the realization of a dream was nearly blinding," he said of his first illicit flight on Nov. 11, 2008. "My first thought after takeoff was `Oh my God, I'm flying.' I had waited my entire life for that moment."
He said he'll use his prison time to study and get ready to apply to college, with the hope of earning an aeronautical engineering degree.
He pleaded guilty to counts including identity theft, theft of a firearm and residential burglary.
Harris-Moore's daring run from the law earned him international fame and a movie deal to help repay his victims after he flew a stolen plane from Indiana to the Bahamas in July 2010, crash-landed it near a mangrove swamp and was arrested by Bahamian authorities in a hail of bullets.
State prosecutors asked for a nine-and-a-half year sentence. Browne and attorney Emma Scanlan, sought a low-end, six-year term, citing Harris-Moore's bleak childhood in a Camano Island trailer with an alcoholic mother and a series of her convict boyfriends. They laid out the details of his upbringing in psychiatric and mitigation reports filed with the court.
Harris-Moore's first conviction came at age 12, in 2004, for possession of stolen property, and according to the reports, his first experience with burglary came when he broke into the homes of his classmates to steal food because his mother spent most of her Social Security income on beer and cigarettes -- something she has denied.
Over the next three years he was convicted of theft, burglary, malicious mischief and assault, among other crimes. At one point he was arrested when a detective posed as a pizza-delivery driver.
In 2007, the boy was sentenced to three years in a juvenile lockup after pleading guilty to three burglary counts in Island County. But he fled the minimum-security facility in April 2008 and was soon back to his old tricks, breaking into unoccupied vacation homes, stealing food and sometimes staying there.
As red-faced investigators repeatedly failed to catch him, his antics escalated: He began stealing planes from small, rural airports and crash-landing them -- at least five in all.
"What was characterized by the media as the swashbuckling adventures of a rakish teenager were in fact the actions of a depressed, possibly suicidal young man with waxing and waning post-traumatic stress disorder (following his first plane crash in November 2008)," wrote Dr. Richard S. Adler, a psychiatrist who evaluated him for the defense lawyers.
Waves of burglaries broke out on Orcas Island, where Kyle Ater runs his Homegrown Market and Deli, in late 2009 and in early 2010, after stolen planes were found at the airport there. The second time, Harris-Moore left Ater's new security system in a utility sink, under a running faucet. He took cash and a tray of croissants, and Ater's insurance company jacked up his rates.
Mike Parnell, a former owner of the Oakley sunglasses company who lives on Orcas, was repeatedly victimized. Harris-Moore hid out for long periods in the second level of his hangar at the airport, and when Parnell and his family would go on trips in their plane, Harris-Moore would take their car to their house and eat their food. At one point, Harris-Moore entered their home while Parnell was there with his wife and three children and grabbed his wife's car keys off a counter.
"We were all fearing for our lives," Parnell said Thursday. "The kids wouldn't sleep in their own bedrooms. We purchased night vision goggles. I'm glad that day is finally approaching when we will finally know what the consequences are, and I hope it's sufficient for the way our whole island suffered."
Harris-Moore's final spree came after he stole a pistol in eastern British Columbia and took a plane from a hangar in Idaho, where investigators found bare footprints on the floor and wall. That plane crashed near Granite Falls, Washington, after it ran out of fuel.
He made his way to Oregon in a 32-foot (9.75-meter) boat stolen in southwestern Washington -- stopping first to leave $100 at an animal shelter in Raymond, Washington. From Oregon, authorities said, Harris-Moore traveled across the United States, frequently stealing cars from the parking lots of small airports. In Indiana, he stole another plane and made for the Bahamas, more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, where authorities finally caught him in a manhunt that spanned multiple islands.