Dr. Casey Jordan, Criminologist - Attorney

'Barefoot Bandit' says broken home sparked international crime spree

December 16, 2011 -- It's a sensational story with a Hollywood deal, but the adventures of Colton Harris-Moore, aka 'The Barefoot Bandit,' is really a tragedy, his attorneys tell a judge at a hearing Friday.

"It wasn't a victimless crime," Kyle Ater, whose delicatessen was robbed by Harris-Moore, tells the Seattle Times. "Oh, to say that he grew up in an abusive society and we should let him off because of that? I'm going to tell the judge how he affected hundreds of people and millions of dollars' worth of property."

His mom, Pam Kohler, meanwhile, has maintained Colton's adventuresome spirit is to blame for his actions

"I did my best with him, but he has a strong mind," Ms. Kohler told freelance writer Bob Friel, who profiled Harris-Moore for Outside magazine in 2010, before his capture. "Kids just don't listen to their mothers." According to Mr. Friel, Kohler also took pride in his exploits, especially his ability to elude the law.

The defense report paints a different picture of the now 20-year-old's home life, where many of the male role models were drifters and his mom provided little stability or guidance. One witness recalled that "one minute Pam would hug and kiss Colt and call him her 'little boo-boo bear,' and then, literally within minutes, explode at him, saying things such as 'I wish you were dead.' "

The psychiatrist also notes that Harris-Moore began breaking into neighbor's homes as an elementary school student, raiding refrigerators because there was no food in his home. Evidence of possible psychological problems, including depression, date back to when Harris-Moore was 12 years old, when he told a psychologist, "I need help."

Fearing that a 10-year sentence would break Harris-Moore's spirit and ruin his potential, one defense investigator wrote to the judge, “Given a reasonable sentence, there is every reason to believe that Colt will make the most of his time behind bars, prove himself a model inmate, then work hard to become a self-sufficient, contributing citizen after his release.”

That idea deserves deep consideration by a judge likely under pressure to throw the book at Harris-Moore, says Casey Jordan, a criminologist at Western Connecticut State University.

"This is really a policy issue about what you do when somebody has truly slipped through the cracks, where the system let him down, and where he's at an age where he's still salvageable," she says. "The judge really needs to separate out the political or cultural pressure to make an example of him ... from the very genuine pressure to make a specific plan that will address this particular defendant, who any fair-minded person who reads the mitigation report will say is not beyond rehabilitation."

This summer, Harris-Moore sold his story to Twentieth-Century Fox for $1.3 million. Under the plea agreement, the money will go toward paying back his multitude of victims.

"I am humbled to know I can now help the people I hurt, at least for the financial damage I caused them," Harris-Moore said in a statement at the time.

12/16/2011
Christain Science Monitor

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