Barefoot Bandit Colton Harris-Moore gets 7 years

COUPEVILLE — In the end, Colton Harris-Moore’s story of a troubled childhood, undiagnosed fetal alcohol problems and deep remorse helped sway a judge away from a harsh prison term.

The man who gained international notoriety as the Barefoot Bandit was sentenced Friday to more than seven years behind bars, the low end of the state’s mandatory guidelines.

He could have spent decades in prison for the two-year crime spree that cut a swath through Pacific Northwest and ultimately touched three countries and nine states.

Harris-Moore racked up millions in stolen property, helping himself to cars, boats and planes while also burglarizing homes and businesses.

“I wanted the maximum amount but I think it was fair and just,” Camano Island resident and Harris-Moore victim Michael Nestor said after the hearing.

Prosecutors from Island, San Juan and Snohomish counties were pushing for about 10 years, the maximum amount within the state’s guidelines.

“He was a menace,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Harris-Moore’s defense team argued that their client qualified for a six-year sentence, a punishment that was less than state guidelines.

“We’re afraid that his spirit will be killed and destroyed by a lengthy sentence,” said John Henry Browne, Harris-Moore’s attorney.

An extensive psychiatric evaluation determined that Harris-Moore suffered from undiagnosed neurological problems.

As a boy, Harris-Moore had almost all the risk factors for failure and none of the support to succeed, Dr. Richard Adler said. The Seattle psychiatrist evaluated Harris-Moore for the defense and testified Friday.

Criminal behavior seemed inevitable.

“It started out of necessity,” Adler said. “He had the worst of circumstances.”

Harris-Moore told investigators he began stealing food from neighbors at 13.

His mother, Pam Kohler, was portrayed as abusive and negligent. She would use spare money for cigarettes and beer instead of food, reports said.

Harris-Moore’s first memory of childhood was of Kohler saying she wished he was born dead, Browne said.

Kohler did not attend Friday’s hearing. She said she visited a friend and held a prayer vigil for her son.

Churchill called Harris-Moore’s case both a tragedy and a triumph of human spirit.

In her remarks, she acknowledged that Harris-Moore had been in her courtroom before, facing juvenile offenses.

Harris-Moore committed numerous crimes and took away the sense of safety once enjoyed by his victims, the judge said. But his tough childhood, including a hard-drinking mother, could have fit into the biography of a mass killer or a drug addict, Churchill said.

Instead, he has shown genuine remorse and has taken steps to make restitution.

“That is the triumph of the human spirit and the triumph of Colton Harris-Moore,” she said. “He has survived.”

The serial burglar sent the judge a six-page, single-spaced letter taking responsibility for his actions, apologizing and sharing much of his life story.

“There are no words sufficient to describe the level of remorse or the feelings I have about myself,” Harris-Moore wrote. “The indelible mark I made on the communities and the fear I caused homeowners, there is no going back.”

Harris-Moore inked a $1.3 million movie deal to help pay back his victims. Under the plea agreement reached in state and federal courts, he is prevented from earning a dime for himself.

Showing no emotion and staring at the floor for most of the hearing, he did not speak up in court Friday, despite encouragement to do so from his attorneys.

Still, Robert Gleyre said he believed Harris-Moore demonstrated genuine remorse.

Harris-Moore broke into Gleyre’s Granite Falls home in October 2009. He stole food, survival gear and a .22 caliber pistol. Mostly, though, he robbed the family of their sense of safety.

While others cheered and made a hero of the notorious fugitive, Gleyre said he worried about his wife, and was concerned every time someone came up the driveway.

After the day’s hearing, he said he learned volumes about Harris-Moore. Now, he hopes the young man can get help in prison.

Harris-Moore has been held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac since his July 2010 arrest. He still faces federal sentencing at the end of January. His state prison term will not begin until he turns 21, satisfying his juvenile sentence.

After the hearing, Banks, the Island County prosecutor, said he thought the seven-year sentence was fair.

“It’s still a significant amount of time for someone who’s never been in the in adult criminal justice system,” he said.

After answering questions about Harris-Moore and dealing with his criminal cases for more than a decade, Banks said he was relieved to put this case behind him.

“I’m glad that it’s over,” he said.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;

Talk to us

More in Local News

The entrance to the new free COVID vaccination site at the Everett Mall on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free mass-vaccination site opens Tuesday at Everett Mall

Hundreds of appointments are up for grabs at the state-run site, which will offer initial doses, boosters and pediatric shots.

Michael Jensen, left, and Nathan Jensen, right, pick up trash in their encampment that they being forced to clear out of by Parks Department the near Silver Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Annual homeless count could shed light on pandemic’s impact

Snohomish County canceled its 2021 point-in-time count. Officials hope this year’s will bring clarity.

Marysville Pilchuck student Gianna Frank and Marysville firefighters bag puzzles and snacks in Marysville, Washington on January 17, 2022. (Isabella Breda / The Herald)
In Marysville, care packages filled in an MLK act of service

Some bags will go to seniors, some to survivors of domestic violence and some to those living with housing insecurity.

Index School (Index School District)
Voters to decide fate of critical school funding measures

Levies to pay for staff and programs are on the Feb. 8 ballot in districts across Snohomish County.

A crew member carries plywood to steathe a roof as of the Home Repair Service Program Friday morning in Brier, Washington on January 14, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Habitat for Humanity program helps Brier homeowners stay put

The nonprofit’s Home Repair Service program gave a senior couple a new roof — and hope.

Snohomish County Courthouse. (Herald file)
Lawmakers consider Snohomish County request for 2 more judges

It’s been 15 years since the Legislature approved a new Superior Court judge for the county.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Ports and potties, and a delay in long-term-care payroll tax

Here’s what’s happening on Day 8 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

A mail carrier delivers mail along Dubuque Road in Snohomish on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mail delays frustrate and perplex Snohomish residents

One woman waited two weeks for delivery. Then came “an avalanche of mail.” The Postal Service blames snow and staffing issues.

Sam Dawson administers a collection swab herself Thursday afternoon at the walk-up COVID testing center on Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on January 13, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Sketchy firm’s COVID-test sites shut down as questions mount

The Center for COVID Control will close an Everett site and others around the U.S. as officials take a closer look.

Most Read