Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA — Christopher Knight spent 27 years living in the woods of central Maine, police say, feeding himself and furnishing his spartan campsites from the spoils of more than 1,000 burglaries of area camps.
STATUS: Christopher Knight appeared at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta on Tuesday May 28, 2013. Police said that Knight lived in the woods of Rome, Maine for 27 years, allegedly burglarizing nearby camps for food and supplies hundreds of times in order to survive, before being caught and arrested on Thursday, April 4, 2013. The case against Knight, 47, was set to be presented to the grand jury but District Attorney Maeghan Maloney stated last week that his case will be put off until a mental health evaluation is complete. Justice Michaela Murphy directed the district attorney and Knight's attorney to confer about his status.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
One of the major questions as his case winds through the court system -- causing a delay to any resolution -- is where he will live and what he will do after he's released from jail.
Attorneys on both sides hope to resolve theft and burglary charges against the man dubbed the North Pond Hermit, and are looking into treatment programs for him, before the case heads to trial in October.
Knight pleaded not guilty Tuesday to indictments charging him with seven burglaries and six thefts in two counties. The 47-year-old, formerly of Albion, has been in jail since his arrest April 4, and Tuesday's hearing was the first time he responded to the charges in court.
Knight's attorney, Walter McKee, said after the Tuesday hearing that he has asked that Knight be evaluated to determine whether he is a candidate for Maine Pretrial Services, which could supervise him while he is out on bail. If Knight is accepted into that program, another bail hearing would be set.
Knight is being held in lieu of $25,000 cash, which must be posted in his name, plus other conditions.
Money from donations made to Knight is not being used toward bail, but is going to make restitution, much toward Pine Tree Camp in Rome, where Knight was arrested and where many of the burglaries he allegedly committed took place. The camp is for children and adults with disabilities.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said that was Knight's decision.
"He decided to set up an account and wanted that money to go to restitution and in particular to Pine Tree Camp," she said.
Knight's family, several of whom still live in Albion, have visited him at the jail in Augusta, and there's a possibility he might live with them after he's released from jail, McKee said.
Knight left home around 1987, disappearing into the woods and apparently had no contact with family members until they learned of his arrest from police. Knight told police that he committed burglaries at night and avoided people.
While Knight said little during the court appearance early Tuesday, McKee said Knight communicates well.
"What's interesting, when you talk with him, is he's remarkably articulate and well-spoken," McKee said. "He chooses his words carefully. He's highly intelligent and speaks very sparingly as you might expect."
Maloney, district attorney in both Kennebec and Somerset counties, also said the two sides continue to work toward an agreement that would resolve the case without a trial.
She said both she and McKee are looking at the programs available for offenders in Kennebec County.
Knight has already been evaluated for Co-occurring Disorders Court, a program of intense supervision and rehabilitation.
"We will be meeting next Wednesday to see whether he is an appropriate candidate or not," Maloney said.
She said a trial date had to be set, despite the continuing look at other options.
"It is time for us to make a decision one way or another. If not, it's time for us to go forward to a jury trial," she said. Maloney also said that money being sent by outside donors to Knight is not being used toward bail.
Three of the indictments charge Knight with stealing food and household supplies from the Pine Tree Camp. He is accused of burglarizing the camp on April 26, 2012, and March 13 and April 4.
The other four indictments accuse him of burglarizing private residences in Rome and Smithfield.
On Tuesday, Knight was arraigned in Kennebec County Superior Court during a 10-minute hearing before Justice Michaela Murphy.
Knight has another hearing set for Oct. 8.
Knight's story of surviving alone so long in the Maine woods and burglarizing camps for supplies has attracted worldwide media attention and some sympathy, but victims of the burglaries have said they feel more secure knowing a suspect is behind bars.
Sheriff's deputies, state police and wardens for decades had sought an elusive burglar who seemed to know when camp owners had stocked up on food and propane and other supplies. His image was caught several times on surveillance cameras, but he was able to elude capture. Knight reportedly told investigators that he had spoken to only one other person in his years in the woods -- a hiker in the 1990s.
Property owners around North Pond, Little North Pond and East Pond believe were frequent victims over the years of a burglar who would take items including food, propane tanks, and batteries from their lakeside cottages.
After his arrest, Knight allegedly told police he had committed more 1,000 burglaries during the 27 years he spent living alone in the woods in the Rome and Smithfield area, which is about 20 miles north of Augusta.
Maloney also said she believes the case has attracted so much interest because Knight lived outside of society for so long.
"There's a part in each of us that wants to escape at certain points and go out and live in the woods," Maloney said. "We all have our days when we think that. He awakens that in us. The reality is that none of us would want to live in the Maine woods in the winter."
Last Thursday, Knight was indicted by a grand jury in Kennebec County on six burglary and five theft charges. Earlier this month, he also was indicted on one burglary and one theft charge by a grand jury in Somerset County.
The charges go back to 2008. The statute of limitations prevents prosecutors from pursuing charges that date farther back.
Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: