Sirens & Gavels

Barefoot Bandit's tale turns to tricky legalities

Newspaper front pages all contain the story of the capture of Colton Harris-Moore near his home in Camano Island, Wash., on Monday July 12, 2010. The 19-year-old
Newspaper front pages all contain the story of the capture of Colton Harris-Moore near his home in Camano Island, Wash., on Monday July 12, 2010. The 19-year-old "Barefoot Bandit," on the run since fleeing a Renton halfway house in 2008, was arrested Sunday on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey) (Kevin Casey / Associated Press)
SEATTLE — With Colton Harris-Moore locked up in a Bahamian jail, federal prosecutors in Seattle are compiling evidence of his alleged crimes on U.S. soil over the past two years, a process made even more difficult by the numerous jurisdictions claiming visits by the so-called "Barefoot Bandit."

The number of federal and state charges that could be filed against the 19-year-old Camano Island man, let alone the amount or prison time he could face if convicted, is not yet clear. Once Harris-Moore is extradited to Seattle, a grand jury will review a case involving the theft of an airplane in Idaho — the sole federal charge filed against Harris-Moore — and additional charges could potentially be tacked on at that time, authorities said.

Over the past several weeks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darwin Roberts has been in contact with police and prosecutors in states where Harris-Moore is suspected of committing crimes — a list that includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Wyoming and Nebraska — to find out how the prosecution should proceed, said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle. He is suspected of burglarizing dozens of homes, and stealing cars, boats and at least five airplanes during a run from the law that began with his 2008 escape from a Seattle-area halfway house.

Read the rest of the story by Seattle Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

July 12: Barefoot Bandit to face Bahamian judge

Feb. 11: Stolen plane, chalk drawn feet: Teen burglar back?

Oct. 7: Teen bandit becoming national sensation

Harris-Moore is also suspected of stealing a firearm from an airplane hangar in Creston, British Columbia, according to federal charging paperwork. "There are obviously many jurisdictions that would like to prosecute him," Langlie said, adding that her office may even consolidate some criminal charges. "It really has to do with prosecutorial resources. You want to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar."

Harris-Moore was expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday in Nassau on suspicion of illegal weapons possession as well as a "litany" of other charges stemming from the week he spent in the Bahamas trying to evade police. Harris-Moore allegedly stole a plane in Indiana and crash-landed it in the Bahamas.

Bahamian police captured Harris-Moore before dawn Sunday following a high-speed boat chase off Eleuthera, one of two sparsely populated tourist islands where he allegedly committed a string of burglaries since crash-landing a plane in the Bahamas a week earlier.

Bahamian Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said that charges filed in the Bahamas will take priority over those in the U.S., but also noted the two countries have excellent relations and an extradition could happen more quickly than people might expect.

So far, Harris-Moore has been charged in U.S. District Court with interstate transportation of stolen property in connection with last fall's theft of an airplane in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, that crashed and was abandoned near Granite Falls, Wash. That charge alone could bring a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a possible fine.

In Island County, Wash., where Harris-Moore's alleged crime spree began shortly after his 2008 escape from the halfway house, the teen is wanted on 10 pending criminal charges, including vehicle theft, attempting to elude police, identity theft, possession of stolen property, theft and malicious mischief, said Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks.

Banks said he is awaiting a call from Roberts to discuss how the case will proceed now that Harris-Moore is in custody. Banks doesn't believe that the majority of his charges can be handled federally because they fall under state statutes.

If convicted on all 10 counts filed in Island County, Harris-Moore could face up to five years in prison, Banks said.

"The Bahamians want to hold him accountable for the crimes he committed down there. I don't know if it will be a month, a year or how long it will be for them to process them," Banks said. "We may not have a crack at him for quite some time."

In San Juan County, Wash., Harris-Moore is charged with second-degree burglary stemming from a September 2009 break-in at the Island Market in Eastsound, said Prosecutor Randy Gaylord. Harris-Moore is also suspected of numerous other crimes on Orcas and San Juan Islands, but no other cases have been referred to Gaylord's office.

Gaylord said that his office has been contacted by the U.S. Attorney's Office to discuss consolidating cases, which is something that Gaylord said he is not opposed to as long as Harris-Moore is "held accountable."

"It is a big interest to the citizens to this community," Gaylor said of Harris-Moore's alleged crimes.

He is also facing charges of theft and burglary in Nebraska for allegedly breaking into an airport and stealing a sport-utility vehicle, according to The Associated Press. The vehicle turned up nearly 240 miles away in Pella, Iowa, reports said.

In Snohomish County, Wash., prosecutors say that Harris-Moore could potentially be charged with possession of stolen property and theft of a motor vehicle. The Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office is still reviewing the charges, said spokesman Dave Wold.

According to federal charging paperwork, Harris-Moore has been investigated about 65 times since his April 2008 escape.




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