Saturday, June 18, 2011


Colton appeared in Seattle federal court yesterday for a change of plea hearing that laid out the agreement reached for the Federal charges and all other charges against him outside of Washington State.

After the reports of a prison-volleyball injury (amazing what makes the news), Colt walked into the courtroom without a limp. He looked fine, though paler than when I last saw him in the Bahamas, which is to be expected after nearly a year in Seatac Federal Detention Center. Instead of the t-shirt and shorts he wore in the Bahamas courtroom, Colt had on a green button-down shirt over khaki pants. He smiled as he greeted his attorney, John Henry Browne, but spent the rest of the hour-long proceedings looking down at his printed plea or directly at Judge Richard Jones.

At the prosecution table were Assistant US Attorneys Darwin Roberts and Michael Dion along with Special Agent Linwood Smith who headed the FBI investigation.

The judge addressed Colton as “sir” throughout, and questioned him thoroughly about whether he understood what was going on, the rights he was giving up, and the charges for which he was prepared to change his plea from not guilty to guilty. Colt answered everything with either “yes sir” or “no sir” in a clear voice. Darwin Roberts spoke for the US and read the 7 federal charges along with a “Statement of Fact” in which Colt was admitting responsibility for more than 25 additional crimes in Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Those crimes were primarily the car thefts and hangar break-ins during his cross-country run and included the plane theft that took him from Indiana to the Bahamas.

Colt’s punishment for the crimes will include prison time, presumably some probation, restitution and forfeiture of any and all proceeds from ever telling or trading on his story.

The prison sentence recommendation for these crimes is 63 to 78 months. The final number will be decided by the judge at the end of October. The agreement states that whatever the final sentence, it will be served in Washington State prisons.

Colt admits that that the losses attributable to these crimes add up to $1,409,438.

The forfeiture section of the agreement states that, so far, Colt owes $959,438 in restitution. There will be another amount somewhere north of $250,000 added for Washington State crime victims.

Colt can start to pay that off with proceeds from his story. Out of the 28 page plea agreement, seven pages dealt with Colt’s ability to tell or sell his story or otherwise trade on the publicity garnered during his run as the Barefoot Bandit. Jenny Durkin, the US Attorney for the Western District, says that the agreement ensures that Colt will never personally make a dime off his crimes. Those seven pages spell out that any money from movies, books, video games, Happy Meal toys, or anything else you can possibly think of that would go to Colt based on any of these events will instead go to pay restitution. If it ever got to the point where he paid back all the victims, then money earned beyond that will go, I presume, to help reduce the federal deficit.

Colt has consistently said that he does not want himself or his family to profit off the crimes and, as the plea agreement mentions, is currently negotiating to sell his limited life rights to a movie studio in order to start paying restitution to victims.

Next up for Colton Harris-Moore is an appearance in a Washington State courtroom where he’ll plead guilty to crimes in Island, San Juan, Snohomish and Skagit counties. From current and expected filings, that agreement will include 32 charges. The most serious state charge is a burglary during which he took a pistol. Sentencing guidelines for that crime alone max at 116 months.

The combined pleas will run concurrent, but the net result of the state sentence will most likely mean that Colt will get prison time in excess of the 78-month federal sentence. With the current Washington State laws carrying mandatory minimums for crimes involving firearms, Colt could wind up serving 100 months.

As for Colton’s long-term plans: He wants to study aeronautical engineering.     


  1. Ok, say it's 8 years, which would be out in how many with good behavior?

    Colt, why couldn't you have just left the guns out of the equation? They really aren't your style anyway (despite the name).

  2. I really hope that Colt will get shorter sentence...
    But Happy Meal toys? hahahahah It's bizarre even for americans...

  3. Bob, is it standard practice in a case like this for there to be so much time between the plea agreement and the sentencing? Or is there extra time in this case for Colton and John Henry Browne to work out a plea agreement on the Washington state charges? Do you have any guess about when Colt will be in court on the Washington cases? If there's still an ongoing effort to consolidate the state charges, does it still look like Island County will be the jurisdiction where the next plea agreement will be signed?

    You mentioned awhile ago that Colton might do better serving his time in a federal prison because state facilities don't always offer as many educational and rehabilitative resources. Do you have any thoughts on why Browne (I'm guessing it's likely his suggestion)would rather see Colton's time served in Washington state jails? Is Washington's correctional system actually a good one for helping inmates better themselves?

    I hope Colton is able to start serving his time as soon as possible, so he can get out sooner. It seems like he'll be in prison during the part of life when most young adults are really gaining their independence and moving forward with life...establishing a career, choosing a parter and starting a family, settling down. I'm having a hard time getting a grip on what it'll be like for him trying to do all that at age 30. Not impossible by any means, but probably more complicated. Then again, Colt's whole life so far has been complicated.

    One last question: do we have to wait for Colton's sentencing before your book comes out or will we be able to read it once the plea agreements are all squared away?

  4. "As for Colton’s long-term plans: He wants to study aeronautical engineering."

    Awesome. So glad to hear that Colt is going to put energy and intelligence toward something that interests him and he clearly has a knack for.

  5. How much time Colt will actually serve is still up in the air. One reason why they might have requested state prison instead of federal is that the federal system requires serving 85% of your sentence while WA state offers more generous time credit -- known as time off for good behavior.

    In general, yes, federal pens are better funded and "nicer" than state prisons. WA State is one of the systems that's relatively progressive as far as inmate education, though.

    Another reason why people request state prison instead of federal is that they get to serve their time closer to home.

    One thing we'll have to see in the state plea is the firearm charge. WA state law has a mandatory 85%-of-sentence statute that might apply to one of Colt's crimes. There are people, though, who are challenging that law, so they may be gambling that it gets overturned. If so, then Colt may end up only serving five or six years.

    Happy Meal toys was just my joke -- no one actually mentioned those in court.

    I'm discussing the timing with the publisher. The book is complete except for including the sentences. The way the courts work, though, is that the judge can totally ignore the plea deal and set the sentence himself.

    The lag between the change of plea and the actual sentencing is to allow various pre-sentencing activities such as interviews with the defendant by probation officials who make recommendations to the judge in a report. Usually that's done much quicker than the 5 months set for Colt's case. Part of that, yes, must be because of the end-of-July state plea. And I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of change along the way.

    I'll let you know as soon as the book is available.

  6. Wait a minute Bob, you posted "The book is complete except for including the sentences." So you have two covers and blank pages....oooohhh, those kind of sentences!
    Now I got it!
    Please keep us posted.

  7. Hi Bob, thanks for the update. From what I have read online, it seems like the movie project is really moving forward. In this article:
    director/screenwriter Dustin Lance Black says he's meeting with Colton in 2 weeks to "confirm some things". As far as I know, it's the first time that Colton actually speaks to someone from the media. Do you know anything more about this?

  8. Yes, fortunately the book has plenty of sentences already!

    As for the film and meeting with Colt... I do know more about that but can't discuss it right now. I didn't think Lance could either, but he's a Hollywood A-lister and I'm just a scribbler out here in the sticks on Orcas Island.

    I can say, as I said in an interview on the Bob Rivers' Show yesterday, I am very glad that it's Lance doing the screenplay. He won the Oscar for Milk, and he's amazing with complex stories.

    Projects get pulled all the time in Hollywood, so the film is not a definite thing. But if it does get made with the team they pulled together, I have high hopes it will stay true to the book.

  9. What is a community's moral and legal responsibility to its most vulnerable young children?
    I hope your book will explore that question in depth.
    The Camano Island community and its officials utterly failed to provide any meaningful help to Colton when he was growing up there from infancy in hunger, neglect, and destitution.
    Their own files over the years confirm their failure and callousness toward him.
    Now these same officials are trying to bring down the entire power of the State on Colton, when they themselves bear a large measure of responsibility for what has happened in this case.
    If they had given him real help when he was growing up in their community, it could have made a real difference for good in his life and in the Camano Island community as a whole, and there would have been a much more positive outcome.
    I can't help wondering if subconsciously they're trying to ease their own consciences (if they have consciences) by calling for such severe and punitive action against Colton.
    They need to remember the quality of mercy, for their own sake as well as Colton's.

    1. Pam should be in prison not colt.

  10. Good to hear you on the Bob Rivers Show again. Is there any chance you could post something here in advance of interviews so those of us who live outside (waaaay outside) the Seattle area know when to look/listen online for you? I understand that may be asking a lot when you're busy and interviews may be on short notice, but I and hopefully others would hate to miss anything.

    Something I'm trying to figure out here...If the only Colton movie deal is the one based on your book, what movie deal would Colt be directly involved with that could help pay back his victims? Is it the same movie? Would Colton basically be selling the right for the producers of your book's movie to get additional facts and details directly from him to augment all the information you've already uncovered and put on paper?

  11. Beth,
    I agree communities have a huge stake in raising good kids. All the studies out there agree that it's better to invest in the welfare of a young child before he gets into trouble than to have to chase him and lock him up as a teen or adult.

    In the book I do talk about challenges and failures in those regards that this story brings to light. I don't see it as my job to preach or lecture about it (I'll leave that to those more qualified), but to use this story to illustrate the issues.

    Researching all of this has certainly made me more aware of community responsibility to local kids, and I've begun donating to a great operation we have here on the island called Orcas Island Children's House
    I love their quote: "money not invested in a child during this early phase may cost the emerging community member, and society, enormously in the form of a socially disruptive adulthood." And I use that in the book because it's so dead on.

  12. Hi Ned,
    Yes the radio appearance (that doesn't sound right, does it?) was last-minute, not finalized until Sunday evening. I'll post a link to the podcast and try to get ahead of other "appearances." As of right now, other than the CBS 48 Hours that ran this past weekend, the next thing is an A&E Biography. I haven't been given an air date for that yet.

    Again, I can't talk a lot about movie things at this moment, but: Lance Black is writing a screenplay based on my book. That link someone sent in above shows Lance talking about meeting with Colt. The federal plea agreement specifically talks about Colt and his reps involved in negotiations about a film, the proceeds of which that Colt earns from assigning his "limited life rights" will all go to help pay restitution to victims. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 film.

  13. Thanks for clarifying on the film deal. Math is not one of my strong subjects so that whole 1+1+1=1 thing confused me at first. Also thanks for trying to keep us abreast of your upcoming guest slots.

    Some articles online last night suggest Colton will be transferred soon to an Island County lockup in preparation for his appearance (and not the radio kind) in Coupeville probably next month. Why does he get shuttled around instead of simply being kept at FDC Seatac until sentencing?

    It also seems that a prosecutor in Wyoming did not sign on to last Friday's plea deal (although Colt's attorneys pointed out that it's still not too late for him to join the party). If the Wyoming officials want to press their own charges, however relatively minor they may be (theft of one automobile, I think), how could that affect things?

    Thanks for being such a reliable, accurate and accessible source of information!

  14. Moving a prisoner around is all about jurisdiction for the courts, so Colt will be handed off to Island County before he appears in superior court. I don't know, but assume, that he'll then stay in the state system since that's where he's requested to serve his time as part of the federal plea. If there's another federal court appearance for his sentencing, he'll have to be temporarily placed back into federal custody for the hearing.

    As to Wyoming... the jeopardy of committing crimes in so many jurisdictions is that any one of them has the option to go all the way with their charges. When you say "minor" remember that auto theft (called grand larceny in Wyoming) is a felony that in most states carries a maximum 10-year sentence. He's also accused of a burglary there, which is another felony that in most states carries a max of 10 years. The 10 years is retail, but could still mean something like two-to-five added to the end of his other sentences.

  15. I hope Colton gets the minimum sentence there is or the Judge ignores the plea and goes even more lenient. I know this isn't a popular thought with many but I want the kid to get another chance and prove he can be a productive member of society.

  16. I'm seeing some reports that Colton's pleading guilty to the state charges may not happen at the end of July/start of August as earlier anticipated. What can you tell us about a possible delay? Are we talking more likely the end of August now? Is it simply taking more time to get everything coordinated or is there a jurisdiction that's holding out for some reason?

  17. Hi Ned,

    I've answered a couple of questions on this but they were posted in older sections of the blog so readers probably didn't notice. I've again been neglecting this site as I'm spending all my time going through various copy edits on the final manuscript. I also neglected to post about the TV show Biography on Colt that appeared last week. I was interviewed for the show, but as happens a lot, the producers never bothered to give me a heads up before it aired. I haven't seen it yet (no TV here at the cabin), but I'll check to see when they put it on the web and will post a link.

    To answer about Colt's Washington State court appearance: Yes, this was pushed to end of June, then end of July, then August. The latest I'm hearing from Island County, which is hosting the whole affair, is that it may now be pushed as far as mid-September. It doesn't seem to be on account of any problems with the deal -- that, I still believe, was decided a while ago -- but they're just trying to coordinate schedules with four prosecutors, a judge, and Colt's attorneys.

    The wild card that's still out there (last I checked, anyway) was Wyoming, which may still refuse to take part in the federal deal that included all the rest of the US jurisdictions involved outside of Washington. That could potentially be very bad news for Colt.

  18. I hope to hear that the movie does happen because internet gossip tends to be false, and this movie might actually have more truths than lies. Regarding the book, if I ever get more money AND find it on a bookstore shelf I will buy it. But until then I sit here waiting to find out if it becomes official that the movie will happen.

    Also, I saw a picture of Colt's collage. One of the clipped images was the state logo for Kentucky. I've been wondering what his interest was in Kentucky of all states. If anyone might know, please let me, well...., know.

    Thanks for possibly waisting your life reading this comment.

  19. hi Bob, I have a question about copyright law and photographs
    a few days ago, I heard a story on NPR in which a lawyer said that the person who takes a photograph is the copyright owner of that photo, evern if someone else owns the camera
    that would mean Colton is the copyright owner of the widely circulated photo he took of himself with someone else's camera
    that particular photo was circulated by the sheriff's office in Island County after they seized the camera containing the photo
    the photo appeared in countless television, newspaper, and internet stories about Colton
    does this mean Colton would have the legal right to sue the sheriff's office and news organizations for using that photo without his permission?
    just wondering...


  20. Hi Beth,

    Great question. I can only answer it up to a point, though. Yes, it is correct that the person who clicks the shutter is the creator of the photograph and owns the copyright UNLESS he or she is under a work-for-hire contract in which case the copyright owner is usually the entity that hired the photographer.

    Where I can't answer at this moment (but will look into it next time I'm talking to a lawyer versed in copyright) is what happens in the case where a photograph becomes evidence. There may be precedent that allows law enforcement to control/allow usage of images that are evidence.

    Regardless, I don't believe Colt would have a claim against news organizations that used the photos as supplied by the sheriff during the investigation, or later under what's termed "fair use," usage.