AUGUSTA — Christopher T. Knight, known widely as the North Pond Hermit, pleaded guilty Monday to 13 charges of burglary and theft, a small fraction of the 1,000 crimes authorities say he committed in his 27 years of hiding in the woods of central Maine.
Knight, 47, formerly of Albion, was arrested April 4 as he left the Pine Tree Camp in Rome, carrying foodstuffs and tools. He has been in the Kennebec County jail since his arrest.
As part of his guilty plea in Kennebec County Superior Court, he was admitted to the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, an intensive-supervision program in which he will live and work in the community while reporting weekly to a judge. The court is designed to help people with substance abuse and mental health problems.
If he completes the program, which can take one or more years, he will be sentenced to five years in jail, with all but seven months suspended, followed by three years’ probation, said Justice Nancy Mills.
The judge said the start of Monday’s hearing was delayed because of a miscommunication between the state and the defense over the initial period of jail time. Mills said prosecutors had told victims that it would be nine months, but Knight’s attorney Walter McKee said the agreement called for seven months – the time he already has served.
Mills decided it would be seven months. She said the goal of the program is to keep incarceration at a minimum and teach participants ways to succeed.
If Knight doesn’t complete the program, he could be sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison, Mills said.
Knight walked into the courtroom Monday with his hands behind his back, clutching several papers. Knight, who was not handcuffed, repeated “guilty” 13 times as the judge asked him for his pleas to various felony and misdemeanor charges.
MOTIVE A MYSTERY
The story of Knight’s life in the woods – including his nighttime raids to gather propane and batteries for his highly camouflaged camp – was first reported by the Kennebec Journal. The story drew national media attention, plus a video, songs and contributions to repay property owners whose items were stolen.
Knight has rejected repeated requests to speak to reporters, so the reason he dropped out of society about a year after high school remains a mystery.
The seven burglary and six theft charges go back as far as six years and cover two counties.
When Knight was first questioned by Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, he told her he had not had contact with his family since the mid-1980s. He told her that was about the same time he had last bought anything. Everything he had – except for his eyeglasses – was stolen, he said.
He also showed police items he had stored in plastic totes in a different area in case he had to retreat from his main campsite, Perkins-Vance wrote in an affidavit filed in court.
When Knight was arrested, he was wearing jeans and a belt reported as stolen in the fall of 2012 by Lillie Cogswell of Rome.
Reached in Wimberley, Texas, after the hearing, Cogswell said she is concerned about where Knight will live.
“What’s to say he’s not going to walk out of jail and disappear again?” she said. “And how is he going to support himself?”
She said he could have learned some sort of trade in prison.
Homeowners in the Rome area said they had given up reporting break-ins to police. Some even left notes asking the burglar to leave a shopping list for them and leave their other belongings.
‘A VERY UNIQUE PERSON’
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney met with burglary victims including the operators of the Pine Tree Camp, which hosts programs for disabled children and adults, before recommending a sentence to Mills. She detailed for the judge the evidence the state had to prove Knight committed the crimes, and said he was charged with only crimes that were reported to police before April 4. She noted that the statute of limitations prevented the state from charging him with burglaries reported more than six years ago.
After Monday’s hearing, McKee said there is no fixed date for Knight’s release from jail. He said details about Knight’s living arrangements are still being settled, and that his family will assist him. Several of Knight’s family members, including his brother Joel, watched the hearing from a bench at the rear of the courtroom.
More than a dozen members of the media attended.
McKee said Knight doesn’t talk or interact much with other people, but no one anticipates any problems once he is released. McKee said money contributed to a fund for Knight will be used to pay the $1,800 restitution estimated so far. McKee said he intends to contribute some of his own money.
Outside the courtroom, Margaret Micholichek of the Restorative Justice Institute of Maine said she will attend a meeting between Knight and the victims so he can hear how the burglaries affected them.
Maloney said such a meeting could include all victims, not just those named in the charges, as well as some of Knight’s family members and therapists.
McKee and Maloney said Knight was considered a candidate for the special court program because he was stealing items to survive, not jewelry.
“It’s a very unique case, a very unique sentence, and a very unique person,” McKee said.
FEW RECLAIMED ITEMS
After his arrest, Knight led police to his campsite near Little North Pond. The site was full of camping gear, clothes, propane tanks, batteries, sleeping bags and foodstuffs.
State police collected all of the items and allowed those who had reported burglaries in the Little North Pond, North Pond and East Pond areas to retrieve their property. Few people reclaimed any items.
However, this summer, many of the seasonal residents said they felt safer knowing that the longtime burglar was behind bars.
The judge said Knight’s sentence will be imposed at the completion of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, which will take at least a year. If he fails to complete the requirements, it could result in an immediate sentencing.
“Hopefully, things can settle down and you can get into a routine,” Mills said, because that’s how people succeed in the program.
Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: