AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A man who lived nearly three decades in the Maine woods, surviving brutal winters, breaking into houses and avoiding detection by police and neighbors now faces a big challenge: reintegrating into society.
Christopher Knight, known as the North Pond Hermit, pleaded guilty Monday to 13 counts of burglary and theft and was admitted into a special court program that will allow him to be released from jail and live and work in the community under the supervision of court officials.
Police have said the 47-year-old Knight may have been responsible for as many as 1,000 burglaries for food, clothing, camping and cooking gear from homes and camps while living in the woods of the central Maine town of Rome for 27 years before his arrest in April.
Walter McKee, Knight's lawyer, said he believes Knight is ready to be free, but acknowledged that he likely faces big hurdles after spending so many years isolated from the community.
"A lot has changed in 30 years," he said. "And going from a life of solitude to being part of our modern society would be a challenge for anyone," he said in an interview before Monday's hearing.
A date has not been set for Knight's release, but McKee said it could be within a few months.
The North Pond Hermit had become a legend in the town of about 1,000 residents to the point where summer cottage owners left food out for him so he wouldn't break in during the colder months, police have said.
Under the special program, which typically takes from one to three years to complete, Knight will get help finding a job and a place to live and can get alcohol abuse and mental health counseling and treatment, McKee said.
He also will be brought in for weekly hearings, undergo frequent drug and alcohol testing and have to comply with a nightly curfew. If he successfully completes the program, he won't have to serve any more jail time. But if fails to meet its requirements, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison, said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
Maloney and McKee told reporters after the hearing that they agreed that Knight's release poses no threat to the community and that his participation in the program is the best way to help him move forward.
"We want him to have a successful reintegration into the community and I was not convinced that if he went to state prison that it would be possible," Maloney said.
As to what compelled Knight to vanish from his home and spend so many years tucked away in the woods, McKee said, "I think it's something we may never know."