The 20-year-old “Barefoot Bandit” was sentenced on Friday to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to dozens of charges.
Colton Harris-Moore gained international notoriety while evading police across the US in stolen planes, boats and cars during a two-year crime spree.
“This case is a tragedy in many ways, but it’s a triumph of the human spirit in other ways,” Judge Vickie Churchill said.
She described Harris-Moore’s upbringing as a “mind-numbing absence of hope,” and said she believed he was genuinely remorseful and contrite.
Friday’s proceedings consolidated cases against Harris-Moore in three Washington State counties. He has already pleaded guilty to federal charges in Seattle and will be sentenced for those crimes early next year. He will serve his state and federal sentences at the same time.
In a statement provided to Churchill, he said his childhood was one he would not wish on his “darkest enemies.”
Still, he said he takes responsibility for the crime spree that brought him international notoriety.
Harris-Moore said he studied manuals and online videos to teach himself to be a pilot, and the thrills he experienced while flying stolen planes renewed his passion for life and will help him rehabilitate while in prison.
“The euphoria of the countdown to takeoff and the realization of a dream was nearly blinding,” he said of his first illicit flight on Nov. 11, 2008. “My first thought after takeoff was: ‘Oh my God, I’m flying.’ I had waited my entire life for that moment.”
He said he would use his prison time to study and get ready to apply to college, with the hope of earning an aeronautical engineering degree.
He pleaded guilty to counts including identity theft, theft of a firearm and residential burglary.
Harris-Moore’s daring run from the law earned him international fame and a movie deal to help repay his victims after he flew a stolen plane from Indiana to the Bahamas in July last year, crash-landed it near a mangrove swamp and was arrested by Bahamian authorities in a hail of bullets.
State prosecutors asked for a nine-and-a-half year sentence. Browne and attorney Emma Scanlan sought a low-end, six-year term, citing Harris-Moore’s bleak childhood in a Camano Island trailer with an alcoholic mother and a series of her convict boyfriends. They laid out the details of his upbringing in psychiatric and mitigation reports filed with the court.
Harris-Moore’s first conviction came at age 12, in 2004, for possession of stolen property, and according to the reports, his first experience with burglary came when he broke into the homes of his classmates to steal food because his mother spent most of her Social Security income on beer and cigarettes — something she has denied.
Over the next three years, he was convicted of theft, burglary, malicious mischief and assault, among other crimes. At one point, he was arrested when a detective posed as a pizza-delivery driver.
In 2007, the boy was sentenced to three years in a juvenile lockup after pleading guilty to three burglary counts in Island County. However, he fled the minimum-security facility in April 2008 and was soon back to his old tricks, breaking into unoccupied vacation homes, stealing food and sometimes staying there.
As red-faced investigators repeatedly failed to catch him, his antics escalated: He began stealing planes from small, rural airports and crash-landing them — at least five in all.