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Media circus follows Barefoot Bandit to Whidbey

People who are curious about the Barefoot Bandit should stay away from Coupeville Friday and instead go online to catch live action from the courtroom, law enforcement officials are begging.

Colton Harris-Moore, the world-famous burglar and airplane thief, will be in Island County Superior Court Friday to enter 30 guilty pleas for crimes he allegedly committed in three counties.

A media circus is coming to town. Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating the expected onslaught of TV  cameras and reporters. He said the major TV networks will all be at the hearing, including NBC’s Dateline and possibly CBS’s 48 Hours.

The print media will also be storming Coupeville. Reporters from the New York Times, Reuters, the Associated Press, the Seattle Times and other local newspapers will be covering the story.

Wallace said journalists from a German news magazine have contacted him, but didn’t confirm whether they will be at the hearing.

In addition to the courtroom, a live stream of the hearing will play in the commissioners’ hearing room. Wallace said there’s only a total of 145 seats in both rooms and they will probably all be taken up by reporters, victims and lawyers.

“The odds of getting in to see something is very slim,” he warned, noting that Harris-Moore will be brought to the courtroom through an enclosed area.

But since there’s a huge interest in the case, Wallace has worked to get the hearing streamed live on the internet at the county’s website, www.islandcounty.net. It’s the same technology that the county commissioners use to broadcast their meetings, only it will be in real time.

Nevertheless, the cops are preparing for a crowd.

“We expect a very large turnout of people trying to attend the hearing, or catch a glimpse of Harris-Moore. The turnout could be in the hundreds or more,” Coupeville Town Marshal Dave Penrod wrote in a letter to merchants.

To prevent parking problems, Penrod is closing streets in a two-block radius of the courthouse. TV trucks will be allowed to park within the area.

The hearing may take most of the day. Under a plea bargain, Harris-Moore is expected to plead guilty to 30 charges that were filed in Island, San Juan and Snohomish counties. The most serious charge is a first-degree burglary that occurred in Snohomish County.

Harris-Moore will also be sentenced Friday. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he will ask the judge to send him to prison for nine years and four months. Both Banks and the San Juan County prosecutor will give brief presentations. Banks said he expects only five or six of the many victims to speak at the hearing. Afterward, the two defense attorneys will address the judge. Harris-Moore has the option of speaking on his own behalf.

“Our goal is to keep it a dignified proceeding as possible,” Banks said.

Sheriff Mark Brown said he plans to attend the hearing, but won’t be doing any interviews afterward. He’s been especially critical of all the hype surrounding Harris-Moore, which he feels glamorizes crime. Likewise, Banks said he has no plan to go one-on-one with a TV camera Friday. He was on TV news a number of times after the Barefoot Bandit was caught, but he said “it quickly got old.”

“It was apparent that (the TV reporters) had a script and they were trying to fill in the blanks,” he said.

Harris-Moore rose to international prominence for a crime spree that began after he escaped from a halfway house in 2008 and returned to Camano Island to burglarize and steal. He evaded capture for months and then moved to other counties, where his fame grew after he allegedly stole boats and small airplanes.

Harris-Moore, who allegedly committed at least one burglary while barefoot, was finally arrested in the Bahamas in 2010. He reportedly fled the United States in a plane stolen in Indiana.

Harris-Moore pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal charges in U.S. District Court in Seattle and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. It’s likely that the federal sentence will run concurrent, or at the same time, as the state sentence, but it will ultimately be up to the federal judge.

Harris-Moore agreed to sell his story to a movie company for $1.3 million, but his victims, including Island County government, will get the money under the plea deal in federal court.

 

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