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Court records reveal troubled childhood of 'barefoot bandit'

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
  • Court records show Colton Harris-Moore as a wayward boy with frequent run-ins with the law
  • Harris-Moore complained about his mother's behavior when drinking, according to the records
  • His father left when he was 4 or 5 and he became attached to his stepfather, who later died
  • 'He does things without thinking of the end results,' his mother wrote the court about her son

Island County, Washington (CNN) -- Colton Harris-Moore returned Thursday to a setting with which he is all-too-acquainted: a Washington State courtroom.

After two years on the run, Harris-Moore, 19, heard the charge and possible jail time he faces for stealing a plane.

The teen had been on the run since he walked away from a juvenile halfway house in Renton, Washington, in 2008.

Harris-Moore has already been charged with over a dozen crimes such as fleeing from police officers in a stolen car, identity thefts, burglaries and taking a four seater Cessna plane for a joyride, even though he doesn't have a pilot's license and never apparently took any flying lessons.

The FBI had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. At the hearing, Harris-Moore's attorney did not contest his continued detention and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. If a grand jury hands up an indictment in the plane case, Harris-Moore would next appear at an arraignment to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Before he gained notoriety as the brazen "barefoot bandit," Harris-Moore was a wayward boy who despite frequent run-ins with the law, behavior modifying medication, pleas from relatives and psychological counseling could not stay out of trouble.

'Let down'

A CNN review of more than a thousand pages of court documents painted a different picture of the now infamous outlaw. The records instead show Harris-Moore running from his demons and what a psychologist's report called "a home situation marked by instability, loss and alcohol abuse."

"He was let down," Harris-Moore's aunt Sandra Puttmann told CNN.

"He was neglected by the schools, the police and his immediate family. He didn't have a normal life, he had an alcoholic mom and her boyfriends."

Read the aunt's letter to the court

According to Puttmann, her sister drank heavily and regularly broke Harris-Moore's toys as a form of punishment while he was growing up.

In court records, Harris-Moore tells a psychologist his mother acted "mean" when drinking and "she will break my things. She yells and screams at me."

Harris-Moore's mother, Pamela Kohler, did not respond to CNN's calls, emails and a letter asking for comment on the allegations.

A homemade placard placed on the driveway to the broken down trailer where she lives and where Colton Harris-Moore grew up warned visitors, "If you go past this sign you will be shot."

"She never abused Colton," said O. Yale Lewis, Kohler's entertainment attorney who is fielding offers for books and movies based on Harris-Moore's alleged escapades. "There is a much richer story here."

Many disappointments

Video: Who is the 'Barefoot Bandit' suspect?
Video: Mother of 'Barefoot Bandit' speaks

But in a handwritten letter in Harris-Moore's court file, Kohler wrote, "This boy has had many disappointments all his life. His step father died and our dog and this had severe effects on Colt and I."

"He does things," Kohler's letter continues. "Without thinking of the end results." According to court records, Kohler said Colton's father left when he was "four to five years old." Colton was "attached to" her next husband, Kohler said in court records, but he was "a heroin addict" who died of undetermined causes when Colton was 10 years old.

Read the full letter

A subsequent live-in boyfriend, is described by Kohler in court records, as, "not playing with a full deck." State Child Protective Services responded to reports of incidents at the home on 12 different occasions, once removing Harris-Moore from his mother's care for three days, court records show.

In a May 2003 incident, court records say that Colton Harris-Moore, then 12, called 911 after his father allegedly pushed him to the ground and gripped his hand around the boy's throat.

When police arrived, according to the records, Colton's father Gordon Moore "ran into the woods... but they soon caught him. He was arrested and taken to jail."

Soon after, court records detail, Gordon Moore cut off contact with the family. CNN was unable to reach him for comment about the incident.

According to court records, Pamela Kohler blamed her son for the incident. "His mom was drunk and screaming at him,' Island County court records said. "She stumbled around asking, 'What are you going to do now? They have taken your father away.' "

Six months later, Harris-Moore was arrested with three other boys for breaking into the middle school he attended. Harris-Moore later pleaded guilty to using a butane torch lighter to burn a hole into a school window and then take a laptop and blank CDs.

He was sentenced to six months of supervision and 56 hours of community service.

Tumultuous relationship

In a 2004 report, Harris-Moore's probation officer wrote, "Colton and his mother share a tumultuous relationship. Colton's mother reported to me how he is violent at home on a near daily basis.

He recently broke the telephone in order to prevent her from calling the police. She then showed me a mark on her forearm of how (sic) he had bit her" and "reported a recent incident where Colton went after her with a boat oar."

The same report continued, "His mother reported how Colton is now medicated and is complying with taking his medications and his behavior has not been as hostile toward her."

In 2007 as her son faced sentencing on burglary charges, Harris-Moore's mother wrote the court, saying "Colt has had mental problems since about age 2. I have tried for years to get help for him."

"Colton tended to beat his head on the wall when he was toddler." Kohler stated, according to court records.

In the 2007 psychological evaluation that is part of Harris-Moore's court file, Dr. Delton Young writes "Colton has a long-term history of psychiatric and behavioral difficulties. He also has been prescribed a wide range of psychiatric medications including anti-depressants, stimulant medications, mood stabilizers, and even an anti-psychotic medication."

Read the full psychological evaluation

Harris-Moore's then-attorney Rachel Miyoshi said she ordered the psychological review to show that he "wasn't dangerous, wasn't violent. All the charges against him were basically property crimes," she said.

Miyoshi remembered Harris-Moore as being "very on the ball" and "courteous."

He didn't have a normal life, he had an alcoholic mom and her boyfriends.
--Sandra Puttmann, Colton Harris-Moore's aunt

"Colton is incredibly bright," Miyoshi told CNN. "But he didn't have much schooling and he wanted to fly. He wasn't going to be able to go into the Navy so I think [allegedly stealing airplanes] was the only avenue for him to do what he wanted."

With Harris-Moore facing 23 charges, Miyoshi negotiated a deal where Harris-Moore plead guilty to three charges of burglary and was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention home "I love that boy like one of my own kids," Harris-Moore's aunt Sandra Puttmann wrote, the judge in the case.

She offered to let him live on her farm with "horses dogs, cats, chickens that he shows a big interest in. I think he got mixed in with the wrong crowd and got himself in to (sic) far."

But in April 2008, Harris-Moore allegedly snuck out of the group home for juvenile offenders, beginning the chase with authorities that concluded two years later in the Bahamas with the teenage fugitive newly famous and in chains.

Sandra Puttmann said Harris-Moore's story could have turned out differently had he gone to live on her farm. Instead, Puttmann said, she would receive phone calls from Harris-Moore every month or so to let her know he was doing ok and still running.

Puttmann said she pleaded with the young fugitive to turn himself in. His reply was always the same, "He wasn't ready to stop yet," she said.