'Barefoot bandit' back in U.S.; hearing Wednesday in Miami court
After pleading guilty to a minor charge in the Bahamas and paying a $300 fine — teen fugitive Colton Harris-Moore, known as the 'Barefoot Bandit,' landed in Miami and was taken into custody by FBI agents.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas — By all appearances, Bahamian authorities decided it was just best to deport Colton Harris-Moore as quickly as possible to the United States.
So Tuesday evening — after pleading guilty to a minor charge in the Bahamas and paying a $300 fine — the teen fugitive known as the "Barefoot Bandit" landed in Miami and was taken into custody by FBI agents.
He was escorted from the commercial plane — with shoes on this time — and into a waiting sport-utility vehicle, which took him to jail.
He is to make a first appearance in U.S. District Court in Miami on Wednesday. A judge there must determine that the person before him is the same person charged with the theft of an airplane in Idaho that crashed near Granite Falls last year. If so, Harris-Moore will be sent back to Western Washington for arraignment in that case.
It will be up to the U.S. Marshal's Office and its transportation system — known as "Con Air" — to determine when Harris-Moore will return to the Northwest. Depending on flight schedules, "that could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks," said Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Seattle. "Harris-Moore will be treated like any other federal inmate."
Eventually, a long list of jurisdictions from Western Washington to Indiana will have to decide whether and how to charge Harris-Moore for some 70 crimes allegedly committed in at least six states during a two-year spree after he escaped from a Renton halfway house. Most of the allegations stem from crimes on Camano and Orcas islands.
Tuesday morning in Nassau, Harris-Moore put his first court case to rest.
He arrived in the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles from a holding cell, where an escort officer in a white, starched jacket, had chatted him up.
The escort officer later told how he asked Harris-Moore about airplanes. He said the youth appeared quite at ease.
"He told me he had always been fascinated by them, ever since kindergarten," said the guard.
The guard asked about how hard it was to take a 40-some-foot boat.
He said the teenager told him, "Well, I grew up around boats."
Harris-Moore was arrested Sunday morning by Bahamian police as he tried to flee on a stolen boat.
He told police he came to the country, located southeast of Florida, because it has so many islands, airports and docks, according to an officer who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
The teenager claimed that he told islanders he was trying to get to Cuba so he could throw police off his trail, but that he intended to make his way to the Turks and Caicos Islands southeast of the Bahamas, the officer said.
Monique Gomez, the Bahamas attorney hired Sunday by Seattle-area parties interested in helping the 19-year-old, did pretty well for the "Barefoot Bandit."
On Monday, Bahamian police had said Harris-Moore would face a gun-possession charge and possibly numerous theft-related charges stemming from his alleged weeklong crime spree there.
He ended up pleading guilty to "having landed from a destination outside of the Bahamas, without leave of an immigration officer."
The penalty was $300 or three months in jail.
His mother, Pam Kohler, wired the money to pay the fine after the U. S. Embassy in Nassau called, said Seattle attorney John Henry Browne, who has been retained by the Camano Island woman to represent her son.
Harris-Moore has yet to call Browne. It's not clear if he has spoken with his mother; she declined to comment Tuesday.
The court hearing was over in 15 minutes.
Afterward, Gomez smiled at compliments from others in the courthouse.
It's a small world in the legal profession in the Bahamas. Things that might raise an eyebrow in the U.S. are part of that small world.
For example, the arraignment was held in a small, second-story courtroom presided over by Magistrate Roger Gomez — Monique Gomez's uncle.
There were no wooden benches like one might see in a U.S. courtroom, just three dozen or so metal-frame chairs with vinyl seats. The room did have an air conditioner blasting away the 90-degree heat and 79 percent humidity. The hallway, on the other hand, had only a floor fan.
Gomez was selected by Jim Johanson, an Edmonds lawyer, who in June said he had been asked by a couple who wanted to remain anonymous to offer $50,000 to Harris-Moore to surrender by 3 p.m. June 8.
Johanson said he would represent Harris-Moore free of charge as part of the arrangement.
But of course, Harris-Moore never took that offer.
When the teen was arrested in the Bahamas, Johanson said, the couple asked that Johanson find representation for him.
Johanson used Google and contacts in Florida, and found Gomez. He said the couple paid Gomez less than $5,000.
"I was very pleased with her hard work. She did a hell of a job plea-bargaining the thing to a $300 fine and getting him out of jail time," Johansen said.
When Gomez met with Harris-Moore on Monday, she said, "He was relaxed. He wanted everything to go away."
She tried a bit of humor with him, asking if he had been bitten by sand flies. He said no.
"We got on well," said Gomez. "I think he's a very nice boy. He probably got mixed up by wrong influences."
Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter and The Associated Press is included in this report.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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