AUGUSTA, Maine — The man known as the North Pond Hermit pleaded guilty in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday afternoon to 13 counts of theft and burglary, crimes he committed while living alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years.
Christopher Knight, 47, said “guilty” after each of the charges Justice Nancy Mills read in front of a courtroom audience that included victims of Knight’s break-ins and members of his family.
As part of a plea agreement, Knight was accepted into the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, a special court program aimed at helping people with mental health and substance abuse problems. Knight’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, previously said Knight has had alcohol and mental health issues.
Knight will remain in Kennebec County Jail in Augusta until his seven months is served, said Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.
Maloney said how much jail time Knight may yet serve depends on whether he obeys the rules of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court. If he does so, he can be released seven months from the day he was arrested. If he does not obey the rules, his sentence could be up to seven years behind bars.
Knight will appear in the Co-Occurring Disorders Court every Monday during a closed proceeding so Justice Mills can monitor his progress. The process may take a year or longer, court officials said.
Knight admitted to committing more than 1,000 burglaries in the North Pond area over the course of 27 years he spent living in the woods. The legal statute of limitations had run out on the vast majority of them, which is why he faced relatively few charges.
He was arrested on April 4 in Rome while leaving the Pine Tree Camp with a number of food items. State Trooper Diane Vance, who arrested Knight, was in the courtroom Monday. Approximately 15 victims and family members of Knight were in the audience.
Knight, wearing his green jail-issued uniform, sat quietly and motionless with his hands in his lap and his eyes focused on the wall in front of him. He answered each of Justice Mills’ questions with one or two words with the exception of one instance.
Mills told Knight that he had to be truthful when talking about his activities during his weekly meetings in Co-Occurring Disorders Court.
“Who will decide what is the truth?” Knight asked the judge.
Mills said that she would determine that.
Outside the courthouse, McKee said where Knight will live has not yet been determined, nor if he will work, go to school or volunteer, which is required of participants of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court.
Margaret Micolichek, a consultant with the Restorative Justice Institute of Maine, said the victims of the burglaries and thefts will sit down with Knight, where they will talk about what happened and how Knight’s actions affected them.
“A lot of them were feeling really frightened by someone consistently coming into their homes and into their camps,” she said. “They’ll hopefully be able to heal that community and have that community feel safe again.”
Maloney said she has been in contact with the victims.
“Some wanted him out on April 5. Some wanted him to be in prison for years,” said Maloney.
The most serious charges against Knight — three Class B burglary felonies — carry a prison term of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $20,000. Knight will not be fined by the court, but will have to pay nearly $1,900 in restitution.
Knight must not have drugs or alcohol and he must submit to random testing. The object of the special court is to have him adjust to society after being out of it for nearly three decades.
“We want him to have a successful reintegration into the community and I was not convinced that if he went to state prison that that would be possible,” said Maloney.
Maloney said the court considered what Knight was stealing — peanut butter, not jewelry.
“It’s a very unique case,” said McKee. “A very unique sentence for a very unique person.”
Knight 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.
The question of why Knight lived so many years in the woods may forever be a mystery, said McKee. Knight has declined interview requests from the media, McKee added.
“That’s something we may never know,” he said.