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Barefoot Bandit gets 6½-year federal sentence

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times –

SEATTLE — The exploits of Colton Harris-Moore, the gangly “Barefoot Bandit” who as a wily thief and self-taught pilot managed to elude police with aplomb from Washington to the Bahamas for two years, ended Friday in a federal courtroom, where a judge sentenced him to 6-1/2 years in prison and three years of probation.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Harris-Moore 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 state sentence — in Washington’s Monroe Correctional Complex.

Speaking clearly from a written text for about six minutes, he said he was humbled as he came to understand how deeply and how widely his actions hurt others.

“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 District Judge Richard A. 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 and mischaracterized by the media, he said, “has been the worst experience of my life.”

He promised residents of Orcas and Camano islands, where many of his crimes occurred, that he would make things right.

The sentencing marked the end of nearly a year of legal wrangling over the proper punishment for 20-year-old Harris-Moore, who has now pleaded guilty to 33 state and seven federal felony charges stemming from his remarkable career as a fugitive. In that time, prosecutors allege he committed a minimum of 67 crimes, including eight burglaries and the thefts of nine cars and three airplanes.

He mocked police and played Robin Hood, sketching his trademark “barefoot” footprints at some scenes, and leaving money to care for animals at a veterinary hospital. He amassed damages and restitution costs of about $1.3 million, to be paid with the proceeds from a planned movie of his life.

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, even if recent statements attributed to him seem to indicate otherwise.

Emails and phone calls from Harris-Moore while he’s been held at the Federal Detention Center were cited by federal prosecutors earlier this week to raise questions about his sincerity. In them, Moore bragged about a relatively lenient 78-month sentence handed down by an Island County, Wash., judge in December to resolve state charges against him. The state and federal sentences — part of a plea agreement — are to run concurrently.

Harris-Moore’s crime spree began in Island County soon after he escaped from a Renton, Wash., halfway house in April 2008.

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. He burgled homes and businesses, sometimes leaving chalked outlines of a bare foot.

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 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, Wash.

In his intercepted emails, he likened his flying exploits to those of the Wright Brothers.

Defense attorney Emma Scanlan said that utterance, and others cited by prosecutors — including derisive statements about law enforcement and the state judge who showed him mercy — are the unfortunate statements of a young, immature and troubled young man who is still processing his actions. Scanlan said federal prosecutors took a number of the quotes out of context.

“It should not be readily assumed that these comments mean Colton is ungrateful for the sentence he received in Island County, oblivious to the harm he has caused to others, or unwilling to try to make amends,” Scanlan said.

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