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Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Skagit County drops charges against Colton Harris-Moore, allowing plea deal to go forward

Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich dropped charges against Colton Harris-Moore on Friday, removing a stumbling block to final resolution in the case against the Barefoot Bandit.
The move allows prosecutors in Snohomish, San Juan and Island counties to proceed with an expected plea agreement that likely will send Harris-Moore to prison for more than a decade.
"Discussions have resumed with the attorneys for Mr. Harris-Moore to set a court hearing," San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord said Monday.
Harris-Moore has pleaded guilty to federal charges but still faces more than 30 state charges connected to his infamous string of crime. He's called the Barefoot Bandit because he sometimes committed crimes without wearing shoes.
Prior to the dismissal of the Skagit County charges, John Henry Browne, Harris-Moore's defense attorney, said that Skagit County had pulled out of a tentative plea agreement reached with other prosecutors.
The uncertainty could have resulted in trials in several counties, a costly and time-consuming resolution for a serial burglar, officials said.
Weyrich was unavailable Monday to explain his reasons for dropping charges the theft and burglary charges.
Now, Harris-Moore, 20, is likely to be arraigned in a consolidated hearing held in Island County Superior Court in Coupeville.
"I am optimistic that the case will move forward," Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks said Monday.
Harris-Moore was arrested in July 2010 in the Bahamas after evading police for more than two years and allegedly stealing five planes, despite no formal flight training. The case gained international attention and interest around the world continues. A reporter from the German magazine "Der Spiegel" was in the region this week.
When Harris-Moore entered guilty pleas in June in federal court, he admitted a February 2010 incident when he stole a small plane from Anacortes and flew it to Eastsound on Orcas Island. The feds charged Harris-Moore with flying the plane without a proper license. Weyrich pursued state theft and burglary charges in Skagit County connected to the same incident.
Even with the dismissal of the Skagit County charges, Harris-Moore still faces nearly three dozen state charges.
Harris-Moore grew up on Camano Island and prowled homes and businesses there and in the San Juan Islands for years. He bided his time hiding from police by breaking into empty vacation homes, stealing food, electronics and credit cards, among other valuables. While Island and San Juan counties have filed dozens of charges, a single charge in Snohomish County could bring the longest prison term.
The most serious state charge is a first-degree burglary, a class A felony, allegedly committed near Granite Falls in Oct. 2009. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has asked Banks to file the burglary charge on his behalf.
The class A distinction, tacked on because a firearm allegedly was stolen during the break-in, is important because it carries the possible penalty of more than a decade behind bars.
Harris-Moore was expected to make the trip to Coupeville's court house last summer, but the hearing was delayed. In early October, Browne accused Weyrich of being obstructionist.
"It seems lots of work has been done on this by all involved," Browne wrote in an email. He said Weyrich's actions could have resulted in multiple trials, only to result in Harris-Moore receiving concurrent sentences.
That, "seems like a big waste of money," Browne said.
Gaylord, the San Juan County prosecutor, wouldn't comment on decisions made by another prosecutor. He said he would like to bring this case to a close.
"I'm anxious to move forward," Gaylord said.
Final sentencing in federal court, now scheduled for Dec. 9, must wait until after Harris-Moore's state charges are adjudicated. That's part of the federal plea agreement, said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Harris-Moore remains locked up at the Federal Detention Center in Sea-Tac.
He recently met with Academy Award-winning screenplay writer Dustin Lance Black, Browne said.
Black is writing a script about the Barefoot Bandit for Twentieth Century Fox. The Hollywood entertainment company paid $1.3 million for Harris-Moore's life rights. The money is slated to help pay more than $1.4 million owed in restitution.
Harris-Moore cannot profit from his story, according to the federal plea agreement.
Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore's mother, said last week she didn't believe that her son was responsible for the crime wave that swept through Camano Island after his escape from a half-way house in 2008. He couldn't have broken into all the houses or stolen the dozens of cars, she said.
"Nobody has enough time in one day to steal that much," the mother said. "Where are the vehicles? They're not in my driveway."
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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