"Barefoot bandit" suspect pleads innocent

SEATTLE (Reuters) - “Barefoot bandit” suspect Colton Harris-Moore, the teen accused in a two-year spree of sometimes-shoeless burglaries and thefts, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of interstate transportation of a stolen plane, boat and gun.

Not guilty pleas on behalf of Harris-Moore, 19, also were entered in federal court by his lawyer to charges of being a fugitive in possession of a firearm and of flying a plane without a pilot’s license.

The five charges, collectively punishable by up to 43 years in prison, were brought in an indictment returned by a grand jury last week, adding to the prosecutions mounting against the youth in his home state of Washington and elsewhere.

The high school dropout and self-taught pilot from the Puget Sound community of Camano Island, north of Seattle, had been on the run since his April 2008 escape from a juvenile detention center.

But he has been held in federal detention without bond since he was returned in custody to Seattle in July, following his capture in the Bahamas.

The baby-faced, 6-foot-5-inch teen, dressed in prison garb, entered the courtroom on Thursday smiling, and appeared to joke quietly with his lawyer before the proceedings. He said little during the brief arraignment except to state his birth date and name, and to say he understood the charges against him.

Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, was not in court, but an aunt of his was present.

A January 18 trial date was set, and attorneys are expected to argue motions in December. In the meantime, Harris-Moore’s lawyer, John Harris Browne, said he has been in talks with prosecutors on a possible plea bargain.

He said he also is seeking to have the federal charges consolidated with other cases pending against Harris-Moore in various state courts.

Federal court documents say Harris-Moore is a prime suspect in a string of 80 burglaries, thefts, and other crimes across nine Western and Midwestern states and British Columbia.

Those include five cases of stolen aircraft, one of which Harris-Moore is accused of flying 1,000 miles from Indiana to the Bahamas. That was where his alleged crime spree came to an end on July 11 when police shot out the engine of a stolen boat he was using.

He was returned the following week to Seattle and ordered held without bail on a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property stemming from the theft of another plane taken in September 2009 from an Idaho airport and crash-landed in Granite Falls, Washington.

That charge was repeated in last week’s indictment, which also accuses Harris-Moore of stealing a pistol in Canada and carrying it with him into the United States and across state lines to Idaho and on the flight to Granite Falls.

Bare footprints were found both at the Idaho airport and the Granite Falls crash site, in keeping with Harris-Moore’s reputed penchant for committing larceny without shoes, according to previous court documents.

His alleged possession of a second handgun in 2009 and 2010 gave rise to the fugitive firearms charge. The charge of piloting an aircraft without an airman’s certificate stems from a separate flight he allegedly made in a stolen plane across the San Juan Islands in Washington state in February.

The charge of interstate transportation of a stolen vessel pertains to a 34-foot boat he is accused of stealing in Washington and sailing to Oregon on May 31, 2010.

The indictment specifies that, if convicted, Harris-Moore must forfeit to the government any proceeds he derives directly or indirectly from his alleged offenses.

But Browne said in an interview that his client was “not interested in making money selling his stories.”

Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jerry Norton