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

Want to serve on the Marysville School Board? There’s a vacancy

Katie Jackson resigned in November for personal reasons. The board plans to fill the spot by Jan. 4.

Robert Miller blows snow out of the parking lot next to his home as snow comes down on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snow arrives earlier than expected in Everett; more expected Tuesday night

Forecasted snow arrives earlier than expected. Wind, winter weather advisories are in effect through Wednesday afternoon.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Man identified in fatal Lake Stevens crash

Bradley Gilbert, 52, of Lake Stevens, died in the crash on State Route 92 last week.

Clyde Shavers, left, and Greg Gilday.
Shavers wins by narrow margin as Dems flip seat in 10th District

Democrat Clyde Shavers won by 211 votes against incumbent state Rep. Greg Gilday. It’s close enough for a recount.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7

Find information and resources to help make the best choice for you.

Marysville Jail (City of Marysville)
Man with hepatitis C accused of spitting on Marysville jail staff

Hepatitis C is usually spread through blood. The suspect, 28, faces allegations of exposing the officers to a contagious disease.

Construction along 196th Street SW in Lynnwood on October 28, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Lynnwood council delays budget vote amid questions on worker wages

Council members have had 11 meetings on the nearly $550M spending plan. They’ll have two more before acting on it.

A sign posted on the door of Bits’n Pieces in Arlington. (Jacqueline Allison / The Herald)
‘3 Students’ max: Arlington businesses bemoan early release, rowdy teens

Since middle-school students started getting released at 1:15 p.m. Fridays, downtown businesses saw a rise in disruptive behavior.

Eric Wilkinson, a Community Transit driver of 17 years, departs from Seaway Transit Center in an empty 280 bus Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. Wilkinson said he usually has about 5 passengers from Boeing on the bus to Granite Falls, but had none Friday because Boeing was closed for the holiday weekend. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Driver shortage prompts Community Transit’s trip cut proposal

Reducing service, by 78 trips total on 9 routes, could make for more reliable arrivals and departures in March.

Most Read