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Bahamas to charge ‘Barefoot Bandit’ suspect

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NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) -- The alleged "Barefoot Bandit" will be charged with illegal weapons possession and other crimes in the Bahamas following his weeklong run from authorities in the island chain, the Bahamian police commissioner said Monday.

Possession of an unlicensed handgun is the most serious of a "litany" of charges that are expected to be presented Tuesday when Colton Harris-Moore makes his first appearance before a judge, said Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade.

He said Harris-Moore did not fire at officers during his capture Sunday just off the island of Eleuthera. The commissioner said the suspect spoke with police and understood his predicament but declined to say whether there was any kind of confession.

"He's very eloquent, obviously an intelligent young man," Commissioner Greenslade said at a news conference.

Commissioner Greenslade said earlier that charges filed in the Bahamas will take priority over those in the United States. Monday is a holiday on the island chain, however, and Harris-Moore was not expected to make his initial court appearance until Tuesday at the earliest.

John Henry Browne, a lawyer asked by Harris-Moore's mother to represent her son, said the theft and burglary charges in the Bahamas are relatively minor but that alleged possession of a gun at the time of his capture could complicate the case. He told CBS' "Early Show" that the 19-year-old fugitive should waive any challenge to extradition and try to return to Seattle as soon as possible.

If the charges are consolidated in federal court, Harris-Moore is looking at a potential four to 12 years in prison, he said.

"These are all property cases," said Mr. Browne, who hoped to speak with Harris-Moore by phone Monday. "There's never been any danger to any human being other than Colton himself."

Mr. Browne said he hoped to speak later Monday with the suspect, who as an adult will decide himself who represents him.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, said that her office would seek to extradite Harris-Moore to Washington state and coordinate with local jurisdictions about how his case would proceed.

"There are obviously many jurisdictions that would like to prosecute him," she said.

His mother, Pamela Kohler of Camano Island, Washington, issued a statement expressing relief that the manhunt for her son had ended.

"I am very relieved that Colt is now safe and that no one was hurt during his capture," Ms. Kohler said. "I have not yet been able to speak to him. It has been over 2½ years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly."

Harris-Moore stayed a step ahead of the law -- stealing cars, powerboats and even airplanes, police say -- while building a reputation as a 21st-century folk hero, but his celebrity became his downfall.

Witnesses on Eleuthera recognized him and called police, who captured him Sunday after a high-speed boat chase, Commissioner Greenslade said at a celebratory news conference in Nassau, the capital.

Commissioner Greenslade said shots were fired during the water chase, but he did not say who fired them. He said Harris-Moore was carrying a handgun that he tried to throw away.

Another senior police official, however, said that police fired shots to disable the motor on the suspect's stolen boat and that Harris-Moore threw his gun in the water. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, also said that police recovered a laptop and a GPS locator from the suspect.

Police flew Harris-Moore in shackles to Nassau. True to the nickname, the teen with close-shorn hair was shoeless as he walked off the plane wearing short camouflage cargo pants, a short-sleeved shirt and a bulletproof vest.

Harris-Moore is blamed for several thefts in the Bahamas in the week since allegedly crash-landing a stolen plane there.

The 6-foot-5-inch Harris-Moore had been on the run since escaping from a Washington state halfway house in 2008. He is accused of breaking into dozens of homes and committing burglaries across Washington, as well as in British Columbia and Idaho.

He is also suspected of stealing at least five planes, including the aircraft he allegedly lifted in Indiana and flew more than 1,000 miles to the Bahamas, despite a lack of formal flight training.

Some of the actions appeared intended to taunt police: In February, someone who broke into a grocery store in Washington's San Juan Islands drew cartoonish, chalk-outline feet all over the floor.

Through it all, his ranks of supporters grew. Some of his more than 60,000 Facebook fans posted disappointed messages Sunday, while others promoted T-shirts and tote bags with the words "Free Colton!" and "Let Colton Fly!"

Even some in the Bahamas had mixed feelings about his arrest.

"I feel like it would have been good if he got away because he never hurt anybody, but then he was running from the law," said Ruthie Key, who owns a market on Great Abaco Island and let Harris-Moore use her wireless Internet connection July 5.

"He seemed very innocent when I spoke with him at the store. I don't think he'd hurt anybody," Ms. Key said.

Island police had been searching for the teen since he allegedly crash-landed the plane on Abaco, where he was blamed for at least seven burglaries. The search expanded to Eleuthera after police there recovered a 44-foot powerboat reported stolen from Abaco.

Victims of the crimes Harris-Moore is accused of were happy to see him in custody.

"These people that support him, they've never been violated by having him break into their homes or businesses," said Joni Fowler, manager of a cafe on Orcas Island north of Seattle where Harris-Moore is accused of taking as much as $1,500. "Just knowing he has a huge network of supporters makes me really worry about the state of this country."

Ms. Fowler said she hopes Harris-Moore's arrest and upcoming court appearances will deflate his mystique and fame, "once everybody figures out he's no god."

Shauna Snyder, a private investigator on Whidbey Island near Camano, said she set up a legal defense fund for Harris-Moore at the request of his mother. She said that although she didn't know how much had been raised so far, the fund has been getting donations.

Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle and Anna Jo Bratton in Phoenix contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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