AUGUSTA, Maine — Christopher Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit, will enter a special court program aimed at helping people with mental health and substance abuse problems who commit crimes stay out of jail.
The Co-Occurring Disorders Court formally accepted Knight earlier this week, Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney announced Friday.
Under terms of the court, Knight would plead guilty to the charges against him but remain free in the community under “intense” supervision. “It typically takes one to three years to graduate from the court,” Maloney said in a prepared statement. “If a member is not successful, the consequence is an automatic state prison sentence.”
Knight, 47, was indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury in August on six burglary charges and five theft charges. Knight claimed to have lived alone in the woods near North Pond in Kennebec County for 27 years, surviving in part by stealing from camps. Earlier in August, he was indicted by a Somerset County grand jury on one count each of burglary and theft. The Somerset County case was transferred to Kennebec County.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges on Aug. 27.
Knight has been incarcerated at Kennebec County Jail in Augusta since his arrest April 4 in Rome. His bail remains at $25,000, with the condition that only family members could post bail.
The Co-Occurring Disorders Court is an alternative sentencing court, according to Maloney. Both Maloney and Knight’s attorney, Walter McKee, recommended Knight for the court, Maloney said.
“When he’s released, we wanted a group that would be responsible for helping him reacclimate to society,” Maloney said in a telephone interview Friday. “This assists him in becoming a member of society, but it also requires many things of him.”
The court will require that Knight go to counseling every week. He must not use or possess illegal drugs or alcohol. He must work, volunteer or go to school full time. There are a number of other conditions that could be added, she said.
McKee said Friday that he feels this is the best option for Knight.
“It provides an opportunity for him to both accept responsibility for what he did and reintegrate him into a society that he’s not been involved in for nearly three decades,” said McKee, adding that Knight agrees with being accepted into the Co-Occurring Disorders Court.
Some details still need to be worked out, said McKee.
“It’s all about the endgame — where does he go? What does he do?” McKee said.
Because the court is for co-occurring disorders, the person being admitted must have two illnesses. In Knight’s case, he has alcohol and mental health problems, said McKee. He would not specify what mental health problem Knight was facing.
He added that he expects Knight to plead guilty Wednesday when he appears in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta. He then will be officially be in the Co-Occurring Disorders Court.
The special court was formed in Kennebec and Somerset counties in 2005 out of the growing recognition that people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders fare poorly in jail, according to the mainepretrial.org website.
Those referred to the court are screened by Maine Pretrial Services forensic case managers. Judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other stakeholders decide whether to accept a referral.