October 30, 2013

Our View: Court supervision makes sense in North Pond Hermit case

Sentencing Christopher T. Knight to a special, intensive program will ensure he gets the help he needs.

The strange case of the North Pond Hermit hit a milestone at Kennebec County Superior Court this week, as Christopher T. Knight pleaded guilty to burglary and theft charges.

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Christopher T. Knight is escorted Monday into Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta, where he pleaded guilty to multiple burglaries and thefts committed during the 27 years he spent living in the woods. Knight was admitted into the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, a special, intensive supervision program allowing him to live and work in the community while reporting weekly to a judge.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The man who by some counts committed as many as 1,000 burglaries will serve just seven months in jail if he can complete an intensive court supervision program. Once living arrangements are finalized, Knight will be back in the community he left 27 years ago for a life in the woods.

The sentence is on target. Despite Knight’s lengthy criminal history, there is nothing to be gained from keeping him in jail any longer. The five-year suspended sentence hanging over his head should be enough to keep Knight in the court-ordered program, and give him the help he so obviously needs.

Knight’s case will be a public showcase for the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, which is designed for defendants with substance abuse and mental health problems. Knight will have to check in with the judge once a week, follow a treatment plan, seek a job or enroll in school, and stay away from his victims, among other stipulations.

Upon successful completion, Knight would be sentenced to five years, with all but his time served suspended.

Knight’s case is tailor-made for the special court, which aims to minimize incarceration while getting the defendant’s life on track. If his tales are to be believed, Knight went years without human contact, leaving his hidden campsite only at night to forage camps for supplies, spending day after day in solitude. Both his decision to flee into the woods in the first place, then to stay there for almost three decades, more than hints at some sort of mental illness, and should be treated.

It’s important to note, too, that Knight was never violent. Certainly, he made his victims fear for their safety and privacy, which he’ll have to confront when he participates in court-ordered meetings with the people he stole from.

But he was stealing to survive, and took pains not to be seen. The court’s actions had to take that into consideration.

The Co-Occurring Disorders Court, which celebrated its fifth graduation last month, has generated some success stories, including two combat veterans who are now on their way to leading productive lives after detours caused by addiction.

But the court has never had a case quite like Knight’s.

“It’s a very unique case, a very unique sentence, and a very unique person,” said Knight’s attorney, Walter McKee.

Knight spent 27 years hiding from the world, only to become one of the most famous faces in Maine.

Now, reality is stripping away the legend, revealing a man with a lot of problems. This sentence shows compassion for those problems, and is the first step in helping Knight find a way back.

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