Thursday, June 9, 2011

Harris-Moore's guilty plea expected soon

Lawyers for the Barefoot Bandit expect to make an announcement within 10 days

Lawyers for the Barefoot Bandit expect to announce within 10 days whether the Camano Island man will enter a guilty plea to six federal charges or proceed to trial.

Negotiations between the federal government and attorneys for Colton Harris-Moore have narrowed in on money that may be earned should Harris-Moore sell his story.

That doesn't mean the talks have stopped.

"Federal plea negotiation have not hit a snag at this point," said Emma Scanlon, Harris-Moore's defense attorney. "We are moving forward."

The complex legal case against the 20-year-old Camano Island man is proceeding and some resolution is likely soon, Scanlon said.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors balked at a provision in the plea agreement that would allow Harris-Moore to sell his story to help pay restitution, said John Henry Browne, Scanlon's law partner.

"Colton has been talking about this since the day I met him, that he'd like to make restitution to victims," Browne said.

Harris-Moore said he's not interested in personally profiting, or his family profiting, by telling his account of years on the run.

Government representatives on Wednesday refused to share details of the plea negotiations with reporters.

"We have no comment. It is the policy of the U.S. Attorney's Office that we do not discuss plea negotiations in any case," said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.

Harris-Moore is said to be seeking up to $400,000 in exchange for sharing the tale of how he piloted planes and evaded capture, sources said. He's likely responsible for more than $3 million in losses.

Both individual victims and insurance companies are due restitution, Browne said.

"They have a right to be made whole," Browne said. He said a plan was drafted that would appoint a special master, likely a retired judge or prosecutor, who would supervise victim repayment.

That plan is part of the ongoing negotiations with the government.

Lawyers' fees are not part of the deal, Browne said. The high-profile Seattle attorney and others at his law practice are working pro-bono for Harris-Moore, Browne said. If Browne's practice were to bill at $125 per hour, the rate compensated to court-appointed defense attorneys, the total cost to represent Harris-Moore likely far exceeds $100,000. The case has proved more complex and difficult than anticipated, Browne said.

Meanwhile, Harris-Moore's legal woes continue to build as an anticipated plea deal nears.

On May 25, a federal grand jury handed down a new charge accusing him of a 2009 bank burglary in Eastsound on Orcas Island.

The latest federal indictment also requires that Harris-Moore forfeit all proceeds from selling his story to the federal government. Browne has said he typically would challenge such a forfeiture clause, but has agreed to the forfeiture to settle Harris-Moore's case.

Harris-Moore made international headlines for a two-year crime spree that included five stolen planes, stolen boats and dozens of burglaries. He prowled homes on Camano Island for years before expanding his turf to include the San Juan Island, and eventually nine states and three countries.

He was arrested on July 11 in the Bahamas.

Scanlon said negotiations also are under way with prosecutors in Island, San Juan and Skagit counties, where Harris-Moore faces dozens of charges for theft and burglary, among other property crimes.

Resolution of the state charges will follow either a federal plea agreement or a trial, she said.

Harris-Moore is scheduled to be arraigned on freshly filed charges Thursday in federal court in Seattle.

He is expected to enter a not-guilty plea, Browne said.

By Jackson Holtz, Herald Writer, 425-339-3447,


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