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.

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