'Mountain Man' who evaded cops for years gets decade in prison
In April 2013, he committed the crime that got him the long federal sentence, shooting at federal agents in a helicopter when he was flushed from a home
By Ken Ritter and Brady McCombs
ST. GEORGE, Utah — Troy James Knapp lived for years in the wilderness of Utah, avoiding people and eating small game he shot with weapons stolen during cabin break-ins. Sometimes, he'd raid the pantry and rumple the bed sheets before setting out alone again on snowshoes with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
For most of the next decade, the man who roamed freely through the woods will live behind bars in a federal penitentiary.
Knapp, 46, known by many as the "Mountain Man," pleaded guilty Monday to federal weapon and multiple state burglary charges in an agreement that will likely put him in federal prison until the end of 2024.
The pleas marked the end of a mysterious story of the California fugitive, originally from Michigan, who became a sensation in Utah. For seven years, local authorities investigated cabin burglaries in southern and central Utah, before in early 2012 they identified Knapp from cabin surveillance photos and fingerprints on a Jim Beam whiskey bottle.
Knapp spent winters holed up in snowbound cabins, and retreated in summers deep into the woods with a supply of guns, dehydrated food, radios, batteries and high-end camping gear. Sometimes he left notes taunting authorities. Other times, he left thank you notes. In Garfield County, he signed a cabin log book as "Troy James the red head."
In April 2013, he committed the crime that got him the long federal sentence, shooting at federal agents in a helicopter when he was flushed from a home near a mountain reservoir in snowy Manti-LaSal National Forest and captured.
Wearing ankle shackles, Knapp entered the federal and state pleas on Monday, as some of those who helped track and capture him looked on. Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk, who once saw Knapp with a rifle disappear into the wilderness near his own home in Clawson, described him as personable and interesting to talk with after he was caught.
Jay Winward, one of Knapp's attorneys, spoke with respect for a man he got to know over the last six months as his attorney.
"There is an admiration for somebody who chooses to live off the land, because he does it while the rest of us wouldn't. Even if he needs a little help from some cabin owners," the defense attorney added.
But Brody Keisel, a prosecutor in the case, said he saw Knapp as nothing more than "a common crook" who survived on easy pickings like canned Spaghetti-Os from cabin break-ins.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Bell noted that Knapp helped authorities find all 16 weapons that had been squirreled away in four locations in four different counties. That included 13 handguns, two rifles and one shotgun, Bell said.
Even U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart in St. George, offered a nod to Knapp's fame and the folklore that grew about his solitary living-off-the-land story.
"The judge told him he should write a book," said Brody Keisel, Sanpete County attorney and the broker of the unusually broad and complex plea agreement involving state and federal cases. "He said, 'You've got plenty of time.'"
Minutes after the federal sentencing, Knapp entered pleas in Utah state court to crimes in seven counties — Beaver, Emery, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Sanpete and Sevier.
He was sentenced to one to 15 years on each of the 10 felony burglary charges, with the state sentences running concurrent with each other and the federal sentence.
State officials will determine whether Knapp spends any more time behind bars. But prosecutors and Knapp's attorneys said the intent was for Knapp to serve his entire sentence in federal prison.
Asked by the federal judge if he had anything to say, Knapp said, "No, thank you."
"That will be his last word," Winward said after Knapp was taken away in custody. "'Thank you.' And he will live a quiet life."
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press