In slippers and socks, the Barefoot Bandit listened quietly and answered softly when asked by Island County Court Judge Vickie Churchill if he understood the charges - 33 in all - and if he agreed with them. Yes he said each time. Then "I find you guilty as charged," Churchill finally told Colton Harris-Moore, a gangling 6-foot-5, 20-year-old folk hero who made global headlines with an international getaway, only to wind up back home in the San Juans this morning where he was sentenced to prison for seven years.
When asked if he had anything to say before sentencing, Harris-Moore responded "No your honor."
The charges arose as part of a two-year crime spree than began on the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, and ended in July 2010 on Harbour Island, the Bahamas. Harris-Moore has been in federal custody the past 18 months and faces U.S. sentencing next month for among other things, stealing an airplane in Indiana and crash-landing it near a Bahamian mangrove swamp. The U.S. sentence is likely to run concurrent with today's sentence.
At today's hearing, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks sought a ten-year term for Harris-Moore, calling it "about right, it's what he deserves." Harris-Moore is remorseful but his "capacity" to appreciate what he did was wrong is "impaired," Banks said. For example, some of his victim were left frightened not only by his entry into their homes but he stole personal financial info from their computers, then tried to make purchases with their credit cards. That takes some criminal effort, he said. "These are not impulsive acts."
San Juan Island County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord, explaining his reasoning for seeking a high-end sentence, recalled some of Harris-Moore's exploits, including the crash-landing of several planes and thefts of boat to aid his San Juan getaways, one he took all the way to Canada.
A number of burglaries were well-plotted and sophisticated - including breaking into a home, ordering items online, then breaking back in and stealing them after they were delivered, Gaylord said. He felt a "line was crossed" in the bandit's life in November 2009 when he broke into a home in Snohomish County and "saw a gun and took it." It was a turning point, he said: The Barefoot Bandit was armed and dangerous.
Harris-Moore's attorney, John Henry Browne, would later say the "'turning point' in his life was when he was born." Living at times in the wilds since age 7, Harris-Moore, had been in trouble with the law since age 12 when convicted of possessing stolen property, followed by convictions for theft, burglary, malicious mischief, and assault by the time he was 15. He earned his barefoot nickname by not wearing shoes at some of the 100 places he burglarized - at one crime scene, he mimicked the name by leaving behind cartoonish chalk-drawn footprints and scrawling the word "c'ya!"
But, said Browne, Harris-Moore literally grew up often without shoes - he broke into some homes at ages 8 or 9 to steal them, along with food, or to do his laundry. Dr. Richard Adler, a Seattle psychiatrist, testified that Harris-Moore was a fetal-alcohol syndrome baby, a condition, along with mistreatment and poverty, that shaped his life. Stealing was a "necessity" to have the things other kids were given.
Browne asked for leniency on the state charges based on Harris-Moore's hard life as a kid living in a Camano Island trailer home with an alcoholic mother and an often-missing and abusive father, a convicted felon. Browne also submitted a lengthy investigator's profile of Moore, which concludes that "He made bad choices and takes full responsibility," and "hopes to one day have a career and a family and make contributions he can feel good about."
Judge Churchill somewhat agreed: "This case is a tragedy...but it is also a triumph of the human spirit." She spoke of Harris-Moore's "terrible upbringing....having to steal food," that he felt more peaceful and serene with animals in the woods than he did at home or school. Yet he survived this life, and is remorseful about these crimes, and "incredibly, forgives his mother," she said. Even at that, he owes society seven years for his acts, she felt.
Harris-Moore's state and federal plea deals require him to give up his intellectual and artistic rights to his crime story. He thus won't share in any of the reported $1.3 million to be paid for rights to a movie about his crime romp, and both prosecutors and Harris-Moore agree the money should go to reimburse victims for their losses. Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning writer of the movie about gay activist Harvey Milk is set to do the screenplay.