'Barefoot Bandit' pleads guilty to more than 30 criminal charges
After evading capture for more than two years in what prosecutors called "a brazen disrespect for the law," Colton Harris-Moore pleaded guilty Friday to more than 33 counts of burglary, theft and other charges in a two-year crime wave that earned him an international cult following as the "Barefoot Bandit."
Rejecting defense claims that Harris-Moore was a psychologically crippled young man victimized by a tumultuous childhood, prosecutors in Washington state painted a picture of an ingenious criminal mastermind who taught himself to fly stolen planes and artfully set up his burglary victims to become repeat targets of future crimes.
"Not only did he keep homeowners under surveillance to determine how and when to break in, but we believe he kept the police under surveillance as well, which helped him evade capture for so long," Island County prosecutor Greg Banks said at Friday's hearing in Coupeville, Wash.
Banks said Harris-Moore, now 20, stole computers, credit cards and Social Security numbers during burglaries, then used them to order merchandise to be delivered to those same homes and offices -- only to break in again and steal it once it was delivered.
He stole a crowbar and bolt cutters from an Ace Hardware store on Orcas Island, then used the equipment to try to break into the store again later, San Juan County prosecutor Randall Gaylord told the court.
"It shows planning, sophistication, premeditation, all the kind of things that run counter to what...some of the other experts may say about him," he said.
He said Harris-Moore surveyed citizens' homes on Camano Island, where he previously lived with his mother, and nearby Orcas Island, to gauge when homeowners would be gone -- at which time he would break in and help himself.
"He would eat their food, take their shoes, put on their clothes, and make that place his own during the time that they weren't there," Gaylord said.
In one case, when sheriff's deputies were waiting for him at a house he had previously burglarized, Harris-Moore showed up with a key to the house and entered, he said. "He was ID'd, but before they could get a hand on him, he sprayed pepper spray and was gone. He was on his way out the door almost as fast as he came in."
Harris-Moore's two years on the lam came to an end in July 2010, when he was recognized at a resort in the Bahamas and arrested. He had flown to the islands in a plane stolen from Indiana.
Judge Vickie I. Churchill was expected to impose a sentence of up to 10 years Friday afternoon, after defense lawyers finished presenting their case.
Harris-Moore's attorney, John Henry Browne, warned that imposing a lengthy prison term could ruin the young man.
"Colton has a tremendous spirit. And I'm afraid...that his spirit will be killed and destroyed by a lengthy sentence," he told the court. "Yes, punish him. But make the punishment proportionate to who he is and what he's done."
--Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Colton Harris-Moore, right, with his attorney, John Henry Browne, in court. Credit: Marcus Donner / Reuters