NASSAU, Bahamas // The teenage fugitive police have dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit" pleaded guilty to a minor offence in the Bahamas today and is expected to be deported to the United States to face prosecution. Colton Harris-Moore pleaded guilty to illegal entry into the country at his first court appearance in the Bahamas, where police ended the 19-year-old alleged two-year crime spree by capturing him following a high-speed boat chase.
The charge stemming from his alleged crash of a stolen plane on Great Abaco Island carries a US$300 fine or three months in jail, followed by deportation. His lawyer, Monique Gomez, said the US Embassy would pay the fine. The shackled teen smiled after the judge read the sentence. Bahamian police had earlier said that he would face other charges including illegal weapons possession related to a string of break-ins, boat thefts and thefts during his weeklong hideout in the country. It was not immediately clear why those charges were not filed.
Prosecutors in the US are preparing cases against him, however. Harris-Moore is suspected in about 70 property crimes across eight states and British Columbia, Canada, many of them in the bucolic islands of Washington state. He is accused of stealing a plane from an Indiana airport to fly to the Bahamas. His arrest came as a relief to residents on his native Camano Island, Washington, where authorities say he learned to dodge police.
"There's a lot of relief throughout the community," said real estate agent Mark Williams. "I think the man's luck just wore out. You run through the woods long enough, you're going to trip over a log." Residents of the rural island also lashed out at the teen's mother this week, saying her decision to hire a well-known Seattle lawyer suggests she's trying to profit from a crime spree that police say took her son from the cedar trees in Washington to the bright beaches of the Bahamas.
"Of course she wants the money. She doesn't work," said Joshua Flickner, whose family owns an island grocery store. "What makes me more angry than the fact that she's trying to profit off this is that there's any profit to be had." The mother's attorney downplayed any profit motive, saying Pam Kohler contacted him for advice after being inundated by requests from news reporters as well as inquiries about book and movie deals.
"Her feelings are relief and exhaustion," O Yale Lewis said. "Obviously, there is enormous interest in this story, and she wants to be careful about how to proceed. But her first concern has been to make sure her son is safe. "And I think she hasn't given much thought beyond that." Harris-Moore told police in the Bahamas that he came to the country, located off the Florida coast, because it has so many islands, airports and docks, according to an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised 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 he intended to make his way to the Turks and Caicos Islands southeast of the Bahamas, the officer said. The suspect learned from the Internet that the British territory has a small police force and no marine defence force, according to the officer. Harris-Moore spent yesterday being questioned by investigators. Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade described him as eloquent, calm, cooperative and "obviously a very intelligent young man," but declined to say whether he made any confession.
Ms Kohler's older sister, Sandra Puttmann, of Arlington, was the first relative to hear from Harris-Moore after his arrest Sunday. She said he was "holding up" but scared now that he is in custody for the first time since he walked away from a halfway house south of Seattle. Harris-Moore did not have his mother's phone number, she said. She gave it to him, but as of Monday night, he still had not spoken with Ms Kohler.
"I'm so glad he got through to me," Ms Puttmann said. "At least he heard a friendly voice. We cried together." Ms Puttmann declined to divulge further details of what she described as their brief phone conversation on Sunday. But she angrily criticised news stories about her nephew, saying reporters typically gloss over his difficult upbringing. Police routinely accused him of stealing even when he hadn't and school officials didn't give him a chance, she said ? something police and school officials have adamantly denied.
Harris-Moore told a psychologist in 2008 that his mother was abusive when she had been drinking, according to a court document cited Monday by The Herald newspaper of Everett. His father left when he was a toddler, and his stepfather died when he was 7, Ms Kohler has said. Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney's Office in Seattle, said today she expected Harris-Moore to be flown first to the southern district of Florida. Typically, defendants make an initial court appearance in the closest federal jurisdiction to the country deporting them.
She said the US Marshals Service would then fly Harris-Moore to Seattle, where he faces a federal complaint of interstate transportation of stolen property alleging that he took a plane from Idaho and crashed it in Washington. "Exactly when he would arrive here is a moving target as far as I know," she said. The Marshals Service in Seattle did not immediately return a call seeking comment. * AP