'Barefoot Bandit' sentenced to 6 1/2 years
SEATTLE (AP) — After a two-year international crime spree in which he survived a handful of crash landings, Colton Harris-Moore — the infamous "Barefoot Bandit" — says he's lucky to be alive.
Harris-Moore spoke publicly in court Friday for the first time since his 2010 arrest. A short while later, he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in federal prison, which will be served concurrently with state prison time.
"What I did could be called daring, but it is no stretch of the imagination to say that am lucky to be alive ... absolutely lucky," he said. "I should have died years ago."
He particularly apologized for stealing planes, saying his arrogance led him to keep alive his dream of flying.
But Harris-Moore, once a gangly teenager, was more than just a self-taught pilot.
He hopscotched his way across the United States, authorities said. He flew a plane stolen in northwestern Washington to the San Juan Islands, stole a pistol in British Columbia and took a plane from Idaho to Washington state, stole a boat in southwestern Washington to go to Oregon, and took a plane in Indiana and flew to the Bahamas, where was arrested.
The 20-year-old earned his nickname because he committed several of the crimes without wearing shoes, and he attracted fans across the nation for his ability to evade police.
Friday's sentencing all but ends his exploits, providing the final details for a movie that an entertainment lawyer and federal prosecutors said 20th Century Fox has in the works.
But far from a gloating star, Harris-Moore apologized Friday to his victims.
"I now know a crime that took place overnight will take years to recover from," he said in court.
Defense attorney John Henry Browne said he expects Harris-Moore to be out of prison in about 4 1/2 years, accounting for the 18 months he's already been in custody. Federal prosecutors declined to comment on how much time he might serve, saying that will be up to the Bureau of Prisons.
Outside the courthouse, Harris-Moore's mother, Pam Kohler of Camano Island, said her son gave her a letter in court, but she refused to talk to reporters. She used her purse to hit a television crew's microphone and camera, and a newspaper photographer's camera.
In court, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones asked Harris-Moore to speak to young people who may look up to him because of his exploits.
"I would say to younger people they should focus on their education, which is what I am doing right now," he said. "I want to start a company. I want to make a difference in this world, legally."
Before the sentencing, defense attorneys said federal prosecutors released cherry-picked excerpts from emails in an effort to make Harris-Moore appear callous and self-aggrandizing.
He called the Island County sheriff "king swine," called prosecutors "fools," and referred to reporters as "vermin." He also described his feats — stealing and flying planes with no formal training — "amazing" and said they were unmatched by anyone except the Wright brothers.
But Harris-Moore's lawyers claim the full emails show that he is sorry for what he did and thankful for the treatment he received from a state judge who called his case a "triumph of the human spirit." The state judge sentenced him last month to seven years, at the low end of the sentencing range.
The attorneys acknowledged that in certain instances he bragged, but they said those writings were simply the product of an impulsive adolescent and don't reflect his true remorse.
Harris-Moore apologized for those emails in court Friday.
Federal prosecutors had asked for Jones to impose a 6 1/2 year sentence to be served while Harris-Moore serves his state time. His attorneys had asked for a federal sentence of just under six years.
The judge acknowledged that Harris-Moore had a difficult childhood, one with "complete lack of parental guidance" and alcohol and drug abuse from his parents. But he said he was concerned that that his previous court appearances didn't have an impact on him.
Jones acknowledged that Harris-Moore committed his early crimes to survive after fleeing from home. But he said "most of the federal offenses were committed for one reason: to fulfill your passion for flying at all costs and consequences."
The judge encouraged Harris-Moore to get treatment in prison.
"The most important day in your life is what you do when you are released. It will be up to you to create a new flight plan," Jones said.
Harris-Moore's defense lawyers said treatment was already under way.
There will be another hearing in a month to decide how much restitution Harris-Moore will be required to pay.
Federal prosecutor Darwin Roberts said he doesn't expect the movie deal to provide enough money to cover the estimated $1.3 million restitution.
Entertainment lawyer Lance Rosen said outside the courtroom that Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black — who wrote "Milk" and the recent "J. Edgar" — has met with Harris-Moore several times and has turned in a draft of the script.
One of Harris-Moore's victims, Kelly Kneifl, made the trip from Yankton, S.D., to speak at the sentencing. Harris-Moore broke into Kneifl's home while he and his family were away on vacation.
Kneifl said he just caught a glimpse of a naked Harris-Moore escaping and wanted get some closure by watching him getting sentenced to prison.
"I do have empathy for him. I hope ... he can get on the right track someday," Kneifl said.