AUGUSTA — Christopher T. Knight, who spent decades in central Maine woods while stealing supplies from area camps, has kept a low profile over the past two years since he was arrested, spending the first seven months in jail and then 17 months in a specialty court program.

But early Monday morning, the man known as the North Pond Hermit was back in court and in front of cameras as he completed his time in the Co-Occurring Disorders Court Program overseen by Justice Nancy Mills. The program is designed to help people with substance abuse and mental health problems.

Knight, 48, who grew up in Albion but whose address was listed in court papers as transient, will remain on probation for three years. He was also ordered to pay more than $1,500 in restitution partly for reconstruction of a private road used by police to cart away the items he had accumulated in his time in the woods.

“The most important thing that Christopher has told me since October 2013 is that he has learned in this court that he can live the life he wants to live without breaking the law,” Mills said Monday.

Knight’s arrest in April 2013, first reported by the Kennebec Journal, sparked worldwide media interest. Knight was seen by some as a folk hero, admired for his ingenuity and survival skills while living in the Maine woods for decades. For many victims of his burglaries, though, Knight represented a troublesome thief who made them fearful and angry, and they were glad when he was behind bars. Knight’s story inspired songs, a documentary film and a marriage proposal.

Knight’s attorney, Walter McKee, said his client’s interest “has been in accepting responsibility, acknowledging what he did, participating fully in restorative justice as part of that and then hopefully moving on after today.”

“If the past is any predictor of future conduct, probably in the history of this court, there is no one who wants to get out of the limelight more than Christopher Knight,” McKee told the judge. The attorney added, “This may well be the last time we see cameras and Chris Knight together.”

Knight entered the Co-Occurring Disorders Court Program Oct. 28, 2013, after pleading guilty to 13 burglaries and thefts in Rome and Smithfield – a fraction of the estimated 1,000 burglaries and thefts he committed over the years.

The most favorable outcome under the terms of a plea agreement was a five-year prison sentence, with all but seven months suspended, and three years of probation. Since Knight has already served the prison time, his remaining court sentence amounts to the probation. The agreement was crafted by McKee and Maeghan Maloney, district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

On Monday, Knight accepted that plea deal and avoided the alternative: a seven-year prison term with an up-front four years behind bars.

In the program, Knight reported to the judge almost weekly along with the two dozen or so other defendants enrolled in the court program and the companion Veterans Court. He worked with a variety of counselors, social workers and others who provide assistance and direction.

McKee said Knight has been working for one of his brothers in exchange for room and board. Knight still doesn’t say much, perhaps as a consequence of the decades spent avoiding people. Knight said nothing during the brief hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court at the Capital Judicial Center.

When the judge asked Knight if he wanted to speak at the hearing, McKee told her, “I asked him and he indicated that he did not wish to speak.”

While he accepted a reporter’s business card with a “thank you,” he declined to say anything else.

Minutes before the hearing, Knight spoke in a courthouse corridor with McKee and with Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, handing her an envelope with a letter handwritten on lined paper. After the hearing ended, he spoke briefly with Maloney and then went to attend a small celebration with other members of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court in a small conference room.

At the hearing, Mills said Knight has begun earning money as he works with vocational rehabilitation counselors and is looking for employment. She said it appeared he could pay the restitution requested and ordered as part of his probation.

YEARS OF THEFTS

Knight was charged with a token number of crimes, those within the statute of limitations and where the prosecutor, Maloney, had the evidence to connect it to Knight.

Knight met and spoke with some of the victims last summer at a Restorative Justice Conference.

At Monday’s hearing, one of the victims, Carol Sullivan, told the judge she worries that Knight would be back in the woods, spying on homeowners’ activities again as he did for 28 or so years.
Sullivan said she was representing a number of victims.

“Unless you’ve experienced the 28 years of looking over your shoulder while walking around your camp at night and during the day, arriving at camp to find food, batteries, books, watches, etc., stolen, feeling that you’re being watched constantly, feeling violated from someone breaking into your camp and going through your personal things, eventually questioning whether it’s your neighbors who are guilty of these crimes, and also having to spend thousands of dollars on repairs and materials just trying to barricade your camp to make it break-in proof, you really, I don’t think, have an idea of the magnitude of the impact this experience has had on all of our lives,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added, “With his graduation from the program, we will all be having those same feelings again, and we’re not sure how we can be reassured that we won’t be living another 28 years (worrying).”

Mills told her that a probation officer will supervise Knight and that she was proud of Knight’s compliance with all of the court requirements. She said Knight wants to avoid any limelight and problems in the future.

“It is highly unlikely he will ever be in a criminal court again,” Mills said.

THE RESTITUTION

Mills praised Maloney and McKee for agreeing to let Knight go through the Co-Occurring Disorders Court.

“Absent this court, the district attorney’s hands would essentially have been tied with regard to recommending a very significant Department of Corrections sentence,” Mills said.

“Based on my getting to know Christopher Knight since October of 2013, when he was admitted to this court, sending him to the Department of Corrections for years and years and years would have been the end of this individual.”

She said he now volunteers regularly in his community and helps his family.

On Monday, the only dispute was over the amount of restitution. McKee said Knight, after being out of society for so long, had very limited earning capacity.

Some $1,000 restitution has been paid already with donations people sent to Knight and with some of the money found at his well-camouflaged campsite.

The charges in Kennebec County, beginning in April 2012 and ending with Knight’s arrest on April 4, 2013, involved a series of three burglaries and thefts at the Pine Tree Camp.

Camp administrators, frustrated at becoming a regular target for the person they viewed as “the backpack burglar,” brought in sophisticated surveillance equipment. At a news conference several days after Knight’s arrest, Dawn Willard-Robinson, the camp director, said, “He was using it like a local Wal-Mart.”

The surveillance equipment triggered a predawn alarm the morning of Knight’s arrest, alerting Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service and Perkins-Vance. Hughes made it to the campground within minutes and watched from outside as Knight went through the kitchen collecting food items.

Hughes said he arrested Knight as he carried meat and other food from Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which serves children and adults with disabilities.

Police said they found Knight carrying a wad of bills – some of the money dated back to the 1990s – and some of it was moldy. Knight told them “he carried it in case he ever needed to go to a store someday,” Perkins-Vance said at the time.