Saturday, December 17, 2011



Well, there’s finally some closure to the case. I know you’ve all seen the news reports and know the sentence handed down by the judge on Colt’s Washington State charges: 87 months. With time off for good behavior, that means Colt could walk out right around his 26th birthday.

I’m back on Orcas after the visit to Coupeville to see the sentencing. In many ways it was a very remarkable event, a fitting end to this story and to this phase of Colton Harris-Moore’s life. According to Colt’s lawyer, John Henry Browne, Colt was ready to accept anywhere within the sentencing range, and so he’s very happy the judge showed compassion and gave him the lowest possible sentence.

Judge Vicki Churchill's statement at sentencing was unlike any I’d ever heard from a judge. I’ll write about that and many more things in the days to come. Right now, though, I’ve got very few hours to add the ending to my book about Colt.

In the meantime, for those who haven’t already done so, I highly recommend reading the mitigation package filed by Colt’s defense (link to NYTimes), Colt’s letter to the judge (link to KIRO TV), and the prosecution’s filings (link to Island County).  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Colton Harris-Moore Sentencing Part 2


The second part of next Friday's proceedings will be the actual sentencing where the judge will listen to arguments for why she should give Colt the maximum time in prison or reduce it to something at the lower range of the guidelines. To try to convince her to give Colt the full nine years and eight months for the gun charge (all sentences will be concurrent), prosecutors will talk of the damage he did, the danger he was, the costs to try to apprehend him. They'll also file impact statements from victims and some victims may choose to speak in court.

On Colt’s side of the ledger, along with his show of remorse, the defense will presumably present a narrative that shows the effects of Colt’s upbringing. From a file thick with a dozen Child Protective Services reports along with numerous records from family counselors and child psychologists, the defense can tell the story of a troubled, depressed kid living in a home where there was often no food but plenty of beer and cigarettes.

Here's a short excerpt from my upcoming book on Colt called “The Barefoot Bandit”:

In August 2001, a Compass Health clinician noted instability and sleep disturbances in ten-year-old Colton. They diagnosed him with ADHD, parent-child relational problem, and possible depression.

On September 10, 2001, a Compass clinician described Colton: “Assertive, talkative 10-year-old who can become quite angry— but the situation with mother and her boyfriend drinking, living in a tiny trailer, mother drinking all the time, and the physical abuse Colton has gotten from boyfriend makes his anger easy to understand.”

The response was to put Colton on Prozac. 

That’s Colt at 10: placed on anti-depressants for what counselors acknowledged were problems primarily caused by his living conditions.

It will be very interesting to see how the judge handles all this. There’s always been the “blame it on the upbringing” debate. Our society can’t function if everybody gets a pass to act out just because daddy didn’t play catch, and everyone except children and the truly insane must take responsibility for their actions. But, there’s definitely a scientifically fact-based case to be made that deficiencies during childhood can lead to stunted development, especially in higher brain functioning like impulse control and the skills needed to make mature decisions. The latest studies even challenge our whole idea of treating 18-year-olds as adults since the brain’s frontal lobe (where the mature thinking abilities reside) doesn’t fully develop until the early 20s.

Obviously Colt committed many crimes and caused a lot of financial and emotional damage to the victims and the small communities he chose to target. There’s still anger down on Camano and some up here on Orcas. I’ve interviewed victims who’ve written letters to the judge asking that Colt get the book thrown at him. I’ve interviewed other victims who see no benefit for anyone – themselves, society, Colt – if he gets a long prison sentence.

As Buzz, a commenter to my last post, said, there are also people within the affected communities who have and are still writing letters to the judge hoping she’ll show some leniency and sentence Colt to the lower range of prison time. His defense team will present those letters to the judge before she renders her final decision.

Another thing on Colt’s side of the equation is that because of his agreement to turn over every penny he might make off his story – including more than $1 million if this movie actually gets made – then his victims will get their restitution asap instead of in many years of dribbling dollars after he gets out of prison.

It will also be interesting to see how the Washington State judge handles the 17 months Colt will have already spent in prison by the time the federal judge renders his final sentence, which will happen next January. I get the feeling after talking to the prosecutors that the State and their local communities would be satisfied if they could say Colt got ten years. It wouldn’t surprise me if the final sentence read somewhere around eight-and-a-half years, which in addition to the time Colt’s already been in custody, would add up to ten.

As a side note: according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, nationwide, the average state prison sentence for violent crimes (murder, rape, kidnapping, assault) is 97 months.

Colton Harris-Moore Sentencing Part 1

The TV production trucks have reserved parking outside the courthouse, the live pool camera will be set up in the courtroom, the Island County Sheriff’s Office is ready to seal off a four-by-two block perimeter around the government buildings… After six months of delays while attorneys negotiated a complex plea deal, Colton Harris-Moore will finally have his day in a Washington State superior court.

On Friday, December 16, Colt will face three prosecutors, 32 felony charges, and some of the local victims from his headline-grabbing, nearly 27-month run as a fugitive. He’ll also be square in the sights of many cameras inside the courtroom—and Colt has a severe dislike of what he calls the “paparazzi.”

Unlike his federal plea hearing, this will be an all-in-one event. The prosecutors from Island, San Juan and Snohomish Counties will present the plea deal to the judge, and Colt is expected to accept its parameters. Randy Gaylord, prosecutor from up here in San Juan County, will have the highest number of counts against Colt, but the most serious single charge comes out of Snohomish, where authorities say Colt stole a .22 Jennings pistol from a house in Granite Falls. Colt carried it here to Orcas Island, where it was found at an airplane hangar he’d been hiding in.

During his time on the run, some of Colt’s friends – and then some of the fans he attracted – pleaded with him not to mess around with guns because that would make it much more likely he or someone else would wind up dead. Secondary to the danger was the knowledge of how strict the courts are when it comes to gunplay. On a spree that included five planes, nearly a dozen boats, and at least eight cars and trucks, it’s that one cheap handgun that will now keep Colt in prison the longest. (Colt also carried guns across the Canadian border, and had one in his hand when he was caught in the Bahamas.) 
Colt has been in contact, via email and phone, with a number of friends and acquaintances. He consistently expresses remorse for the pain he caused his victims. He’s been actively involved in his defense, and will presumably express that remorse in court. The plea deal is set, but that doesn’t mean Colt knows his sentence yet. The judge still has a lot of discretion.

Continued in Sentencing Part 2