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'Barefoot Bandit' Colton Harris-Moore gets more than 7 years for crime spree

Colton Harris-Moore, the youthful thief who rocketed to international notoriety as the 'Barefoot Bandit', was sentenced to more than seven years after pleading guilty to dozens of charges, including burglary and identity theft, stemming from his crime spree.

By Gene JohnsonAssociated Press / December 17, 2011

Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the "Barefoot Bandit," talks with his attorney John Henry Browne in Island County Superior Court, Friday, Dec. 16, in Coupeville, Wash. Harris-Moore pleaded guilty Friday to burglary and theft charges in the Barefoot Bandit case.

Ted S. Warren/AP

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Coupeville, Wash.

At times, Colton Harris-Moore's two years on the run were euphoric – the nights of beatific solitude in the woods, the soaring adrenalin rush of his first moments airborne in the cockpit of a stolen plane.

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But most other times were far less glamorous: sleeping in portable toilets or culverts as he sought shelter from the elements and the police.

The youthful thief who rocketed to international notoriety as the "Barefoot Bandit" is done with both extremes for the moment. He was sentenced Friday to more than seven years in a Washington state prison after pleading guilty to dozens of charges, including burglary and identity theft, stemming from his crime spree.

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Harris-Moore, now 20, showed no reaction as the sentence was delivered by a judge who took pity on his bleak upbringing at the hands of an alcoholic mother and a series of her convict boyfriends – a situation she described as a "mind-numbing absence of hope."

"This case is a tragedy in many ways, but it's a triumph of the human spirit in other ways," Island County Judge Vickie Churchill said. "I could have been reading about the history of a mass murderer. I could have been reading about a drug abusive, alcoholic young man. That is the triumph of Colton Harris-Moore: He has survived."

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 2010, crash-landed it near a mangrove swamp and was arrested by Bahamian authorities in a hail of bullets.

Friday's proceedings consolidated cases against Harris-Moore in three Washington counties. He has already pleaded guilty to federal charges in Seattle and will be sentenced for those crimes early next year, but the sentence is expected to be shorter than his state term.

Harris-Moore faced a sentencing range of just over seven years to just under 10 years.

"Colton's very pleased," said his attorney John Henry Browne. "He was expecting the worst."

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he's glad the case is over and he could live with the sentence.

"I can see why people are sympathetic to him," Banks said. "It's still a significant amount of time for someone who's never been in the adult system."

Harris-Moore spoke softly in court while entering his pleas. He wore an orange jail uniform as his hands were cuffed in front of him.

In a letter to the judge, he said his childhood was one he wouldn't wish on his "darkest enemies." He told a psychiatrist and his lawyers that his earliest memory was his mother telling him she wished he was stillborn.

Still, he said he takes responsibility for the crime spree. He apologized profusely to his victims and said he learned only too late of the fear he was instilling in them.

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 wrote 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."

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