On Friday, Judge Richard Jones handed down a sentence of six-and-a-half years for the seven federal charges included in Colton Harris-Moore's plea deal. This was at the top of the sentencing range, as requested by the US Attorney. However, the sentence does offer credit for the time Harris-Moore has already spent in custody at Seatac Federal Detention Center. Colt has been held there since July 2010.
The federal sentence will run concurrent with Colt's 87-month Washington State sentence, which is set to begin counting down when he turns 21 in March.
Between the WA state charges, federal charges, and the various other crimes committed during Colt's cross-country run before he flew to the Bahamas in a plane he stole from Bloomington, Indiana, Colt has pleaded guilty to or "acknowledged, as relevant conduct" some 67 crimes. He hasn't been charged with any of the dozen or so crimes the Canadians say they believe he committed up there. And the Bahamians simply charged him with an immigration violation instead of the car theft, multiple boat thefts, series of commercial and residential burglaries, and severe gun charges they had evidence of during his time in the islands.
It was a busy 27 months on the lam for Colton Harris-Moore. However, he says that he did have some peaceful down time, including the hours spent perched in his aerie here on Orcas Island's Turtleback Mountain, where he tuned in to aviation chatter on the radio, and studied flying. In November 2008, he climbed down from his nest and flew into history by stealing and flying the first of five airplanes without ever having gone to flight school.
Colt's next move will be from Seatac FDC to a state prison. The exact one is still tbd. There, Colt says he'll concentrate on his education, and he still plans to aim for the sky, starting an aeronautical company when he gets out.
When will that be? The huge number of felonies for crimes like stealing planes, boats, cars, guns and identities would make you think of a throw-away-the-key type sentence, but the prosecutors and judges all work within sentencing guidelines. Instead of a series of long, expensive trials, all of this was decided with plea deals where in return for saving the counties and the federal government money and time, defendants are given lesser sentences. Big factors in the sentencing were also that none of these charges was for a violent crime, AND, because compared to the vast majority of criminals, Colt has a much better shot at paying restitution to his victims even though he owes well over $1 million. In John Henry Browne and Emma Scanlon, Colt also received an excellent, vigorous defense, just as we all deserve.
The US Attorney's Office brought a good case. They won the PR battle by using those phone transcripts and emails, and got their 78 months. They'd also argued, however, that Colt should not get federal credit for his time served, saying that it should only go toward the remainder of the juvenile sentence Colt skipped out on by escaping the group home. The judge didn't agree.
So weighing everything, what's fair? A source that is certainly in a position to know now tells me that if Colt behaves in prison, he'll walk out before his 25th birthday--which Colt will celebrate in about four years and seven weeks from today.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Federal prosecutors today (yesterday by the time you read this) released their sentencing memorandum for Colton Harris-Moore’s upcoming hearing. Interesting reading… both the memo itself, as well as what the feds have had on their reading list, which included possibly more than 1,000 pages of emails and phone transcripts of communications Colt has had while in federal custody.
Prisoners and the people they communicate with are informed that they should have no expectations of privacy in any letters, emails or phone conversations between inmates and the outside world. Those in custody are often especially careful about what they say prior to their trials or sentencing because that’s when prosecutors pay particular attention, hoping to find useable nuggets.
Going through Colt’s transcripts, the feds found passages that they’re using to counter part of Colt’s defense presentation. They say these statements, when seen side-by-side with Colt’s letter to WA State Superior Court Judge Vicki Churchill, cast doubt on the idea that Colt feels remorse and accepts responsibility for his actions. For example...
Colt wrote to the judge:
“Your Honor, the term of my sentence which you hand down, I will serve with humility. I was wrong and I made mistakes beyond what words can express.”
Then from an email Colt wrote two weeks after Judge Churchill gave Colt the lowest sentence possible within the standard sentencing range:
“So the citizens (and sheriffs) are appeased, justice is served. It’s all political. I’m thankful for the judge saying what she did, but at the same time her words were greater than her actions - she had the ability as invested in her by the people to create change, and the opportunity to stand up with compassion, but didn’t reach that potential.”
The feds quoted a portion of Colt's letter to the judge regarding his aircraft thefts, and “glamorizing” his crimes:
“I will continue to write and correspond with the individuals who have been inspired by my story . . . not to view me as a role model or what the media has created, but instead to learn form my mistakes and follow their own dreams . . . I hope that nothing I have said [in this letter] is misconstrued - though I described in detail my first flying experience, in no way whatsoever am I ‘glamorizing’ that event or anything else I have done.”
Then they show part of an email Colt sent in August 2011:
“[T]he things I have done as far as flying and airplanes goes, is amazing. Nobody on this planet have done what I have, except for the Wright brothers.”
Colt’s attitude toward the police was spelled out in his letter to the judge:
“I would also like to extend my apologies to . . . the Island County and San Juan County Sheriffs Office, who I know were only doing their jobs.”
And here’s Colt talking to his mom a week before his state sentencing hearing:
“the more people I have from my camp the better, because that’s just one less seat that will be filled by the media vermin or the swine, the king swine himself, [Island County sheriff] Mark Brown.”
In Colt’s defense memo for Friday's federal sentencing, his attorneys mention his fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, “poor impulse control” and “defective judgement,” as factors in his 27-month crime spree. They’re now saying that those same things, plus his youth, contributed what he’s said in these emails and phone conversations. The most important thing, according to Colt’s attorney Emma Scanlon, is that although Colt may be mad at the sheriff of Island County and the state prosecutors, while digging through his communications, the US Attorneys “…seem to have been unable to find an email that shows a lack of remorse towards his victims.”
As it stands, the US Attorney is asking for a sentence of 78 months to run consecutive with the state sentence Colt skipped out on back in 2008, but concurrent with the new Washington State sentence imposed last month. This means the federal sentence would start when Colt turns 21 in March, just like his state sentence. In addition, the US is asking for the maximum three-year term of probation once Colt is finished his federal sentence.
Colt’s attorneys are arguing that his sentence should be 70 months.
The press reported heavily and sympathetically on Colt when the mitigation package recounting his childhood was released just prior to his state sentencing. With the release of this memo from the prosecutors’ side prior to his federal sentencing, headlines from the “media vermin” have so far had a decidedly less sympathetic take, with each article illustrated by photos of Colt smiling or looking shifty in court:
The Whidbey News-Times from Island County, WA: “Insults show Barefoot Bandit as two-faced as sentencing nears”
LA Times: “Barefoot Bandit calls authorities ‘fools’ and ‘swine.’”
Daily Mail: “Barefoot Bandit… brags about his crime spree from prison, labeling authorities as ‘fools’”
In a case that's gotten so much media attention, attempting to use Colt's own words against him was a smart tactic by the US Attorney's office. Colt's boasts and insults are going to be what gets the most attention during this round, and part of this is indeed a PR battle, with the authorities trying to counter the public image of Colt as a sympathetic or even heroic figure. But I'm not sure these things will do much real damage to him in court. As far as we know, Colt did not say anything imprudent about his victims, only the cops, prosecutors, and the press--all frequent targets. Judge Jones has a lot of discretion with the sentencing even with a plea deal in place, but it'd be a huge leap for him to go beyond the 78 month upper range or to make the federal sentence consecutive on top of the state sentence.
Outside of court, those who have always rooted for Colt as an anti-authority hero will eat up this latest twist, while those who've always thought he was a punk will find his attitude reinforces their view. Others may say these sound like the headstrong things a 20 year old would say.
What do you think?
Monday, January 23, 2012
On Friday, Colt will appear before the Honorable Richard A. Jones of the US District Court in Seattle. Judge Jones presided over Colt’s federal plea hearing last summer, and will now pass sentence after listening to prosecutors and defense attorneys arguments over why Colt should receive the higher or lower level of the sentencing range (63 to 78 months).
Judge Jones, a 61-year-old grad of U-Dub (University of Washington) law school who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 2007, is the half brother of 27-time Grammy winning record producer Quincy Jones.