MOUNT VERNON — “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore pleaded not guilty Thursday to a new burglary charge, but he declined to enter a plea Thursday to a plane-theft count for which he’s already serving prison time.
The youthful thief led police on a two-year, cross-country crime spree in stolen boats, cars and planes. He was arrested after he crashed a plane in the Bahamas in 2010, and got seven years in prison after pleading guilty to dozens of charges in three Washington counties, as well as federal charges.
Skagit County prosecutor Rich Weyrich declined to participate in the plea deal because he believed the sentencing range that other prosecutors were contemplating was too short, and he repeatedly insisted that Harris-Moore should be tried in a local courtroom for his local crimes.
He filed two new charges this month — second-degree burglary, for breaking into the Anacortes Airport, and first-degree theft, for stealing a plane and flying it to San Juan County. It was only afterward that Weyrich learned, from the Associated Press, that the Anacortes plane theft had been included in the plea agreement that sent Harris-Moore to prison.
In a statement Wednesday, Weyrich described that as a deliberate attempt by the San Juan County prosecutor and Harris-Moore’s attorneys to circumvent his authority.
“The sole purpose of this agreement was to circumvent my position that we would not be part of this plea deal which I felt was entirely too lenient,” Weyrich wrote. “At no time was this office ever consulted or contacted about the case or informed that the defendant had been charged or pled guilty to a SKAGIT COUNTY charge in a county where it did not occur.”
San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord said the fact that Harris-Moore landed the plane on Orcas Island, in San Juan County, gave him jurisdiction to charge the February 2010 plane theft. He said he and the other prosecutors involved in the plea discussions wanted to wrap as many charges as possible into the deal, both to bring the case to finality and to ensure restitution for as many victims as possible.
In Skagit County Superior Court on Thursday, Harris-Moore pleaded not guilty to the burglary charge but not to the theft charge. His attorney, John Henry Browne, said he expects the charge to be dismissed because it violates his client’s Fifth Amendment right not to be prosecuted twice for the same crime — double jeopardy, in legal parlance.
“Fifteen prosecutors from around the country, two U.S. attorneys and two judges agreed the sentence in this matter was appropriate,” Browne said. “The only person who disagreed was Mr. Weyrich.”
Browne asked Judge Susan Cook to place Weyrich under a gag order, saying the statement he issued Wednesday exaggerated the charges against Harris-Moore. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Erik Pedersen responded that any such order should apply to both sides, since Browne has made disparaging statements about Weyrich.
Judge Susan Cook said that any such motions should be scheduled according to court rules and addressed later.
Harris-Moore’s next scheduled court date is March 21.