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Originally published July 14, 2010 at 9:31 PM | Page modified July 15, 2010 at 8:38 AM

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'Bandit': Crashed-plane owners 'not spiteful about kid'

Colton Harris-Moore, dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit," made his first appearance in federal court in Miami on Wednesday, the same day an airplane owned by two Indiana brothers was flown by helicopter out of a marsh in the Bahamas.

Seattle Times staff reporter

NASSAU, Bahamas — Two Indiana brothers estimate they lost $50,000 to $75,000 when Colton Harris-Moore allegedly crash-landed their single-engine Cessna on a nearby island here, but they express sympathy for the young man.

The plane was finally hauled out of a marsh by helicopter Wednesday, the same day the 19-year-old dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit" made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Miami.

Not much was accomplished at the court hearing. Harris-Moore told U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube he thought his mother had hired a lawyer but he didn't know the attorney's name.

"I'd like to speak with my mom first," Harris-Moore said, adding that he last spoke to his mother, Pam Kohler, of Camano Island, "about a week ago."

"She said that she hired one," he said. "I have not met with him yet."

Dube set another hearing for Friday morning to determine Harris-Moore's legal representation, whether he should be released on bail and when he should return to Seattle, where he faces a federal charge of stealing an airplane from Idaho that crash-landed near Granite Falls last year.

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 nine 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.

John Miller, 60, of Bloomington, and Don Miller, 64, of nearby North Vernon, are among the greatest monetary losers in the crime spree. They own the plane Harris-Moore allegedly stole and flew to the Bahamas, where he is thought to have committed a string of thefts and break-ins before he was captured Sunday morning.

So it would understandable if the brothers joined the chatter throughout the Northwest and the country on news sites and on television in calling for Harris-Moore's head.

But, says Don Miller, "He's just a kid. A kid who was misguided from the start. My God, they're judging him awfully early. I especially have sympathy toward him after reading about his mom."

Kohler hasn't said much publicly since her son has been captured. Throughout the past two years in several media reports, she's encouraged him and said she was proud of his alleged airplane thefts. She has said she would refuse to help authorities find her son, though at times she claimed to have some information about his whereabouts.

She recently hired an entertainment attorney — who has represented the likes of Courtney Love, Dale Chihuly and relatives of Jimi Hendrix — to handle her "entertainment" interests.

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John Miller says, "I'm not spiteful about that kid. Not one bit. You know who I want to see in jail for life? Thieves who ran hedge funds ... who embezzled ... "

The Cessna Corvalis 400, for which the two brothers paid $620,000 a little more than a year ago, was insured for $500,000, says Don Miller.

Even with aircraft prices plummeting because of the bad economy, they'd still be out tens of thousands of dollars to replace it with a like model, he says.

Harris-Moore allegedly used a crowbar to break into the plane at the Monroe County Airport in Bloomington. It had a full tank of gas and the range to make the 1,100-mile flight to Great Abaco Island, where it crash-landed July 4 in marshy water near an airstrip but within walking distance to a road.

The two brothers had bought insurance for the plane through a Chicago broker. The insurance company arranged for a salvage crew to use a helicopter to hoist the Cessna out of the marsh and onto a flatbed truck.

John Miller says he expects the plane will be stripped down for anything of value.

"I'm waiting to hear from the insurance company. Nobody has paid us anything," he says. "It's still our plane."

Don Miller says the plane's engine now is "a tear-down," and that for it to fly again, it'll need all avionics removed and recertified.

"And that doesn't include the frame," he says.

And yet the two brothers say their sympathy for Harris-Moore comes from their own upbringing in a large family without much money, but one in which the parents shaped their children to be good citizens.

There were 11 children in the family, with the dad running a hardware store.

"We had one full bath among us. But you know what, we always knew we had a sanctuary when we went home," says Don Miller. "No matter what trouble we might be in, we knew they would support us."

John Miller and Don Miller both run their own beer-distributing companies, and they have 170 employees between them.

John Miller says he wouldn't mind at all someday meeting Harris-Moore.

And what would he tell the youth?

"You know, I guess I'd just talk to him like a dad talks to his son," he says.

Information from The Associated Press and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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