'Barefoot Bandit' calls authorities 'fools' and 'swine'
It was a contrite, remorseful Colton Harris-Moore who told a Washington state judge in December how sorry he was for his two-year crime spree as the "Barefoot Bandit." Then he apparently went back to jail and said what he really thought -- and the feds, unfortunately for him, were listening.
"Once again, I made it through a situation I shouldn't have," he chortled, referring to the sympathetic judge who sentenced him to 7 1/2 years in prison for the string of airplane, car, boat and equipment thefts that took him from Washington state to the Bahamas.
Calling the prosecutors and police who finally cornered him "swine," "fools" and "asses," the 20-year-old Harris-Moore said the relatively light sentence was "a much appreciated recognition and validation."
What about the earlier letter he wrote to the court when he said he'd learned so much from his harrowing attempt to pilot airplanes with no formal training, an experience that supposedly "pit[ted] me face to face with my own mortality"?
Not so sorry now.
"The things I have done as far as flying and airplanes goes, is amazing. Nobody on this planet [could] have done what I have, except for the Wright brothers," Harris-Moore said in a private email, monitored by authorities, last August from the federal detention center in Seattle.
"I, as a teenager with no formal education in aviation, was not only able to pilot multiple aircraft, fly one over a thousand miles to the Bahamas. Four out of the five airplanes were flown through inclement weather or night time -- or both, again, without any formal training," he boasted.
"I am confident that anyone else would have died -- you can't just jump in an airplane and fly at night or through weather, you HAVE to be instrument-rated, but I wasn't and actually taught myself how to fly instrument, which is inconceivable to most pilots and ALL instructors."
The emails were detailed in a memorandum filed by federal prosecutors in advance of Friday's hearing in Seattle, when a federal judge will decide how much time Harris-Moore should serve on his seven federal crimes.
His federal sentence is expected to be served concurrently with his 7 1/2-year state term, but it's unclear whether Harris-Moore will receive good-behavior credit for the 18 months he has already served, his lawyer, Emma Scanlan, told The Times.
U.S. Atty. Jenny A. Durkan is asking for a 78-month federal prison term. The defense is suggesting 70 months would be more appropriate, along with $1.4 million in restitution to victims, to be paid out of a movie deal with 20th Century Fox.
Scanlan said prosecutors "cherry-picked" Harris-Moore's boastful statements out of up to 1,500 pages of emails and phone transcripts, most of which reflected the former fugitive's genuine remorse about the long string of burglaries and break-ins that terrorized the remote San Juan Islands in Washington state, where Harris-Moore grew up.
"These are private communications our client sent to his friends and family," Scanlan said. "He has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, he's impulsive, he's 20 years old and he's working through his feelings about what's going on," she said. "He may be a 20-year-old who's mad at a sheriff and doesn't like some of the state prosecutors, but ... they seem to have been unable to find an email that shows a lack of remorse towards his victims."
Federal prosecutors are arguing that Harris-Moore carried out a deliberate plan to accumulate cash and then escape to the Bahamas, where he was finally recognized and arrested in 2010.
"The evidence proves that Mr. Harris-Moore's criminal odyssey was carefully planned and entirely intentional," the federal sentencing memorandum said. "Mr. Harris-Moore took deliberate, focused action to enrich and entertain himself at others' expense, while evading capture for as long as possible."
The memo doesn't portray the 6-foot, 5-inch youth as entirely unsympathetic. It contains images of his whimsical scrawls of bare feet on the floor of a store he burglarized, with the words "C YA!" next to them. There is also a copy of a note he left at a veterinary clinic in Raymond, Wash., in 2010 along with $100 cash for "the care of animals."
But prosecutors emphasized the difference between the braggadocio of Harris-Moore's emails to friends and his apologetic letter to the court.
"Your honor, the term of my sentence which you hand down, I will serve with humility. I was wrong and I made mistakes beyond what words can express," said his letter to the state court in December.
In that hearing, defense lawyers presented evidence that Harris-Moore was the victim of an alcoholic mother and a string of abusive father figures, so he had to begin stealing from neighbors just to feed himself. Judge Vickie Churchill declined to impose the full 10-year-sentence sought by county prosecutors in December, calling Harris-Moore's survival of his troubled childhood a "triumph of the human spirit."
Harris-Moore was only partially grateful, his emails suggest.
"So the citizens (and sheriffs) are appeased, justice is served. It's all political. I'm thankful for the judge saying what she did, but at the same time her words were greater than her actions -- she had the ability as invested in her by the people to create change, and the opportunity to stand up with compassion, but didn't reach that potential," he wrote in a Dec. 29 email, two weeks after his state sentencing.
Still, Harris-Moore appeared characteristically confident. "The sentence was at the lowest-end of the range.... And I'll end up doing less than half of that, too. I won't be out tomorrow, but I have no doubt I will emerge unscathed, with my plans back on track. Just a matter of time, no doubt," he wrote.
"I will continue to write and correspond with the individuals who have been inspired by my story," he added. "Not to view me as a role model or what the media has created, but instead to learn from my mistakes and follow their own dreams."
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Surveillance camera image of Colton Harris-Moore shortly before he was recognized and arrested after flying a stolen plane to the Bahamas in 2010. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office, Seattle