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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Colton Harris-Moore's WA State Plea Hearing Set

Word from Island County is that December 16 is now a firm date for Colt's plea hearing. Colt will appear in Coupeville and plead guilty to a number of charges relating to crimes in several Washington State counties. The judge will announce his sentence at the same hearing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Hi All,

Thanks again for your patience. Ever since I finished my book on the Barefoot Bandit this past spring, I’ve been traveling and working on several other fascinating stories that I’ll talk about here soon.  The deadlines have kept me hopping so I haven’t been able to post much here. And, frankly, there hasn’t been much to update on Colt besides endless court delays.

So, you say, if the book was finished in the spring, where is it? As some of you remember, we decided not to release the book while Colton made his way through the court system. For one, I wanted to make sure the book had a definitive ending, and two, I didn’t want to chance having the book’s research used by any of the parties in the legal wranglings. Unfortunately, those decisions mean the book release has been held up all these months.

Much worse, of course, in my opinion, is that Colton has been held in legal limbo without being sentenced. Whether you’re for him, against him, or just neutral, you’ve got to be disappointed in a system that has kept an American citizen in a federal jail for 16 months that, when it’s all said and done, will most likely not count toward his overall sentence. Those of you who’ve been following the story know Colt has a complicated legal path. But briefly, his Washington State sentence will be longer than the federal sentence, and WA prosecutors tell me that their clock doesn’t start running until he appears in state court. So even if the federal judge uses his discretion and reduces his fed sentence by the amount of time he’s already served, that will be meaningless in the total time he spends behind bars.

On the other hand, Colt did start his famous run by escaping state custody with time still left on his original three-year sentence, and all of this time he could have been held in state prison on the old sentence to the same effect… And, he did waive his Sixth Amendment rights (speedy trial) once he was placed in federal custody. I just don’t like the idea of any citizen held for so long without knowing their ultimate fate.
Almost all the legal gymnastics over this case were completed early this summer. It appears it has primarily been one Washington county that has held up the state’s combined plea deal. Skagit County – where Colt stole a plane during the Winter Olympics and flew it here to Orcas Island – was in and out of the deal for about five months until finally dismissing their charges on October 28. The language of the order of dismissal says the “state is not prepared to proceed at this time.” This allows the other Washington counties to go ahead with their combined plea deal with Colt, though obviously it leaves the door open for Skagit to still try him later in a separate case. (For those out there wondering how I can say Colt stole that plane instead of “allegedly” stole that plane, Colt already plead guilty in federal court to flying that specific plane without a license.)

Several readers have written in asking where Colton is being held. He is still in Seatac Federal Detention Center. A date floated for him to finally appear in Island County for the state plea hearing and sentencing is December 16, but I’ll believe that when I see him actually walk into the courtroom. After that, the federal judge will announce his sentence, which, again, is most likely moot, since the state will give him more time behind bars for the gun-theft charge in Granite Falls.

There’s a lot more to update and to answer your questions, but I’m trying not to write book-length posts here. I’ll start posting much more often in the very near future with news on how Colt is doing in prison, plus news on the book (the March 2012 pub date is carved in stone at this point, so you won’t be getting any more notices from Amazon or your local bookseller that it’s been pushed back. If they somehow delay the court stuff again, I’ll just have to do the final sentencing updates here on this blog). As the book release gets close, I’ll also be posting some of its exclusive material here and on a Facebook “author” page that will go live soon. And yes, I’ll update news on the movie, which everyone seems interested in.

To answer the most common question I’m getting: Colt seems to be doing okay so far. He’s understandably impatient with the delays and wants to start serving his sentences. As far as prison-limbo goes, Seatac FDC isn’t the worst place in the country to be held. He’s surrounded primarily with white-collar crooks, so it’s not the nightmare stuff of HBO’s Oz. Not that it’s where you’d choose to spend your summer vacation if you had other options. In the meantime, Colt continues to read a lot and correspond with friends. He appreciates that a number of people have taken the time to write letters in support, which will be included in the defense’s presentation to the judge at his sentencing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A local Seattle TV station is reporting today that a deal has been reached between Colton and 20th Century Fox to acquire his life rights for a feature film. The price, according to Q13Fox, is $1.3 million.

As per the conditions of Colton’s federal plea agreement, every penny of his proceeds will go to pay restitution to his victims. Colt released a statement saying that paying the restitution was the only reason he agreed to the film deal. He also said he hoped that the first payout would go to the owners of Verne’s Bayside here on Orcas Island.

Regular readers will recognize the name Verne’s and it’s owners Belinda Landon and her family, including daughter Marion Rathbone who managed the restaurant. Colt broke into Verne’s three times – once to use Belinda’s credit cards to order spy cameras and flight training manuals, once to pick up his package and then smash open the safe to take some $18,000 in cash, and a third time when he came back to try the safe again in 2010. After 16 years as a fixture on Eastsound’s Main Street, Verne’s went out of business early this year.

The working title of the film is “Taking Flight,” and it will be based on my book (which was originally titled “Taking Flight,” but is now called “The Barefoot Bandit”) and on interviews with Colt. There’s already a first draft of the script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Lance Black, who recently wrapped up work on Clint Eastwood’s biopic of J. Edgar Hoover. This deal with Colt means Lance can complete the next draft, and eventually director David Gordon Green can move it into production. As I’ve written here before, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to have a book you’ve worked on so hard and for so long sent off to Hollywood to be pulled apart and projected onscreen. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Lance Black, though, and I trust that he’s handling the story appropriately.  

The size of Colt’s life rights deal is surprising – everyone thinks these kinds of deals are worth huge bucks, but they usually aren’t. It’s close to covering the losses suffered by his victims, which is a great thing. If Colt had simply done his time without making a media deal like this, the government would have docked his paychecks for the rest of his life, and victims would have received a few dollars a month forever. Much better they can get their restitution in one quick chunk.

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.     

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Island County, Washington – Colton’s home county – filed amended court documents charging him with 14 felonies. Many of the charges stem from evidence found when Colt jumped out of a moving Mercedes and fled on foot, leaving behind a backpack filled with credit card scanners and other materials tied to burglaries on Camano Island.

This is the first time Island County has charged him with breaking into a sheriff deputy’s patrol car, though they’ve long believed Colton was responsible. The AR-15 assault rifle has never been found, but a camera and other items taken from the patrol car were found at a campsite tied to Colton by forensic evidence. Another new charge stems from the burglary of a county government building on Camano where a safe was stolen and then thrown into a pond.

Island County prosecutor Greg Banks said he’s filing these charges now because some of the earlier 2008 crimes are nearing their statute of limitations. As part of the plea-deal poker game, he also held out the possibility of adding more if the case goes to trial. For now, he’s cherry picking only the strongest cases. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


San Juan County today filed an additional 16 charges against Colton Harris-Moore, including two plane and three boat thefts. The other felony charges include residential and commercial burglaries such as the Homegrown Market break-in -- where the famous chalk footprints and “C-Ya” were left scrawled on the floor -- and Vern’s Bayside, where the how-to-fly DVDs were ordered and the safe cracked.

The filing also spells out the words a San Juan County deputy says that the Barefoot Bandit used to taunt him after he’d chased Colton on foot through the town of Eastsound: “You can’t catch me.”

There are a lot of other incredible details behind all these chases and charges that stretched from the islands of the Northwest to the Bahamas. They’re not in the court filings, but they will be included in my upcoming book, The Barefoot Bandit, to be published by Hyperion.  

The new charges bring the San Juan County tally up to 17 felonies, each with a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison. Island County is also expected to file a new batch of felony charges against Colton in the near future. Attorneys involved in the case expect all of the Federal and Washington State charges will be handled in a plea deal within the next month. For now, Colton Harris-Moore remains inside the Seatac Federal Detention Center, where he's been held since his capture last July in the Bahamas. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Dear Patient Readers,

First, thanks to all who responded to my questions about your interest in Colton’s story. I received emails from people of all ages from places around the world. As I suspected, you all had very thoughtful and interesting takes. 

Second, it’s nice to see by the comments that your interest in Colton continues to translate into care about other young people in difficult circumstances. As I’ve said before, that’s been my biggest takeaway from all this.

Okay, book news: I’ve completed the manuscript. Right now it’s a shelf-bender at 600 pages. I’ll try to whittle that down some by the time it gets to the printer. At the same time, though, I’ll be adding pages to it because… The really big news is that my publisher has agreed to push back the pub date of the book until after Colt makes his way through the courts. To me, this is great news and something I’ve been lobbying very hard for. I appreciate Hyperion taking this step for a number of reasons.

Most basically, the book will now have an ending. Colt’s plea deals will, of course, make news, but then quickly disappear. I feel a book on this subject should have a long shelf life, and so it has to tell what happens to him in the justice system. One option was to do the hardcover now then update for the paperback, but I didn't feel that would be fair to the folks who bought the hardcover.

Most worrisome for me, though, was the idea that the book could come out while all the legal wrangling was still going on. Colt hasn’t been convicted of anything since the charges that sent him to Greenhill in 2007. It’s relatively certain that he illegally absconded from the group home in 2008, but who knows… his attorney may try the “alien abduction” defense.

Seriously… Colt has a talented lawyer defending him. The Federal and local prosecutors have the law and all the evidence gathered by numerous county, state, Federal and even international law enforcement on their side. I hope that the negotiations result in fair sentences (at this point it sounds like Colt will face both Federal and Washington State sentencing). There is, of course, still a chance this could end up in a trial or two. I would not want any information in my book to become involved in any Sixth Amendment (impartial jury) issues. It’s been sensibly argued by both sides in previous court proceedings that pre-trial publicity can be prejudicial to both the defendant’s and the People’s cases. Yes, I’ve already written about Colt and some of these events during the last few years, but not in anything like the depth this book goes into.

So, I apologize that the book will be delayed. But at least from my point of view, it’s a good thing and a big relief. It will probably cost some sales, but there are much larger issues at play here.

Colt will be sentenced this spring or summer. I’ll cover that, add it to the manuscript and then Hyperion will release it. The uncertainty of the legal timing means we can’t give a pub date right now. Whenever that is, though, you’ll get the most complete, factually correct book I can give you, one that’s fair to everyone involved in this complex and compelling story.



Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Thanks for all your patience while I’ve disappeared to work on this book. I’ll be back with regular updates on the Colton Harris-Moore story as soon as possible. 

I’m now working on a chapter that includes worldwide reaction to Colt. As I know many of you have been following this story very closely, I’d like to give you the opportunity to contribute.

Let me know how you first heard about Colton Harris-Moore, what interested you in the story and what interested you about Colt. Tell me how you feel about him (the good and the bad) and how you feel about the events that have happened along the way. Explain why you feel that way. Beyond your own reaction, how did you feel about other people's reaction to the story? What you think his punishment should be… etc. Write anything you want about your interest in the story and what it says to you about Colt, about society, about our times...  

A lot of you have said these things in the blog comments, but these answers will have to come via email. I don’t necessarily have to use your real name, but I do have to know that you’re a real person in order to use any quotes in the book. Don't feel you have to write an entire essay -- this is not a school assignment, and I will only be able to use short excerpts anyway.  

Depending on the volume, I may not be able to answer all emails right away, but I will read everything that comes in. Please send your emails to:

Thanks, and I hope everyone is having a good winter -- whether or not you're under six feet of snow.