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Colton Harris-Moore's defense will ask judge to take his rocky childhood into account

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By Jackson Holtz
Herald Writer
COUPEVILLE -- Criminal psychologists say Colton Harris-Moore's infamous crime spree was fueled by childhood depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Harris-Moore, 20, was abused as a child, grew up in a chaotic home and likely suffered from prenatal exposure to alcohol, according to more than 100 pages of reports prepared by the Camano Island man's criminal defense team.
The findings will be used Friday when Harris-Moore is scheduled to appear in Island County Superior Court to answer more than 30 state felony charges stemming from the two years he spent on the lam in Island, San Juan and Snohomish counties.
The experts concluded that Harris-Moore is a candidate for rehabilitation and likely will not continue his crimes after prison.
Harris-Moore has hopes of raising a family and designing airplanes, though convictions for plane theft likely foreclose his ability to legally pilot planes.
"Colt wants to build a life he can feel good about and he's willing to work for it," according to Pamela L. Rogers, a mitigation expert who prepared a 40-page report.
John Henry Browne, Harris-Moore's defense attorney, said he asked Judge Vickie I. Churchill to seal the psychiatric evaluation and mitigation report because they reveal intimate and detailed accounts of his client's childhood. Churchill refused to block the documents' release, so Browne's office made them available ahead of Friday's hearing.
Harris-Moore, who is known internationally as the Barefoot Bandit, is expected to enter guilty pleas Friday, his attorneys said. He earned the moniker due to his inexplicable choice to often run barefoot from his crimes.
Churchill, who sentenced Harris-Moore for juvenile crimes nearly a decade ago, is expected to sentence Harris-Moore to a decade or more behind bars Friday, officials have said.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he'll seek 10 years, the maximum sentence, and ask that Harris-Moore not begin serving the state sentence until he turns 21 in March. He already is under a juvenile court sentence that was in effect when he escaped custody in April 2008.
Harris-Moore has been in custody since July 2010. If he gets the sentence Banks is seeking, the serial burglar likely will spend about a dozen years locked up.
Browne will ask the judge to take into account Harris-Moore's harsh upbringing and undiagnosed learning disabilities. He'll ask for a more lenient, six-year sentence, he said.
Harris-Moore has already pleaded guilty to seven federal charges connected to his multi-state crime spree. U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones is scheduled to sentence Harris-Moore in January. Jones will determine whether Harris-Moore will be allowed to serve his federal and state sentences concurrently, which is anticipated.
In June 2010, Harris-Moore fled the Pacific Northwest, where he was being hunted by law enforcement, and made his way to Bloomington, Ind., leaving a trail of break-ins, car thefts and attempted plane thefts in nine states.
On July 4, 2010, he stole a high-end Cessna and piloted the plane 2,000 miles before crashing in a mangrove swamp in the Bahamas. He was arrested on July 11 and returned to Seattle. He's been held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
That's where he underwent extensive psychological testing under the direction of Dr. Richard S. Adler, a nationally known expert in forensic and clinical psychiatry. Browne sought Adler's expert opinion.
Both the psychiatric evaluation and the mitigation report detail Harris-Moore's chaotic upbringing. The reports say he was suicidal and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after crashing his first stolen airplane in November 2008.
There's little mention of how Harris-Moore passed his time while hiding from the police.
Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore's mother, is portrayed in the report as a negligent parent who often was drunk, including during pregnancy with her now-notorious son.
Doctors interviewed Ed Coaker, Kohler's older brother, who recalled drinking with Kohler during her pregnancy. Coaker ended his relationship with Kohler, saying she "had no morals whatsoever" and was a "disgusting person for a mother," the reports say.
A state Child Protective Services social worker described Harris-Moore's childhood home as putrid, filled with dirty clothes, papers and food covered in mold and mildew. Except for a dozen eggs, the food in the refrigerator was spoiled and a bag of frozen french fries were covered with mold.
Harris-Moore told an investigator that he was 13 when he first broke into a neighbor's home for food, the reports say.
"I was truly desperate, and just that hungry," he said, according to the report. "That is when I found out I could get food from other people's houses."
He was ashamed of his poverty and his mother's drinking, the report said.
It's no wonder he failed at school and fled his home, Rogers wrote.
Harris-Moore's difficult childhood will not be the only testimony Churchill hears on Friday. Prosecutors have invited Harris-Moore's many victims to testify.
Island County has been preparing for the high-profile hearing for months. Officials distributed special instructions to the media, and an overflow room will be available to people who cannot find a seat in what is expected to be a packed courtroom.
Victims, prosecutors, the defense team and some media will have reserved seats.
Browne said he does not plan to save a seat for Kohler.
"Colton does not want her to come," he said.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;
Story tags » Camano IslandCrimeProsecutionPunishment

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