Troy James Knapp spent years living in the wild lands of Utah, eating small game, avoiding people and earning his nickname “Mountain Man.” Now, he will have to give all that up for a life behind bars.
Knapp, 46, pleaded guilty Monday to federal weapon and multiple state burglary charges in an agreement that will put him in federal prison, probably until the end of 2024. Wearing ankle shackles, Knapp agreed to plead guilty as some of those who helped track and capture him looked on in court in St. George, Utah.
Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk, who once saw Knapp disappear into the wilderness with a rifle, described him as personable and interesting to talk to after he was caught, according to the Associated Press.
For about seven years, Knapp, whose criminal roots included Michigan and Inyo County in California, roamed the high country in Utah, turning fierce terrain from 3,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level into a private preserve and free shopping center. In addition to foraging off the land in a swath of forbidding country, he invaded cabins, stealing what he could, sometimes leaving a thank you note, sometimes not as he eked out a survivalist living in the wild.
Then in April 2013, Knapp committed the crime that really got him into trouble, 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.
Jay Winward, one of Knapp's attorneys, spoke in court with respect for a man he got to know over the last six months.
“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,” Winward said.
But Brody Keisel, a prosecutor in the case, said he saw Knapp as nothing more than “a common crook.”
Knapp had been in trouble before he dropped out of high school in Kalamazoo, Mich. In 1986 he was sentenced to four years for breaking and entering and receiving stolen property. After that, according to a variety of published profiles, he apparently worked odd jobs and lived for a time with one girlfriend and then fathered a daughter with another in 1995. He was charged with harassment in Seattle in 1997.
In September 2000, he apparently began living way off the grid in Inyo County, camping near the town of Bishop. There he was arrested on charges of felony burglary for stealing from the Inyo County Solid Waste facility and the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery in Independence.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Knapp stole a pair of boots from a game warden’s pickup near the hatchery even as authorities were looking for him. A deputy’s report from 2000 quotes Knapp: “I did not want to hurt anyone.” Then, in 2004, after spending four years in jail, Knapp broke parole and seemingly took to the high country in Utah.
Minutes after the federal sentencing on Monday, Knapp entered pleas in Utah state court to crimes in seven counties — an area is about the size of Delaware.
He was sentenced to one to 15 years on each of the 10 felony burglary charges, with the state sentences running concurrently 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,” attorney Winward told reporters after Knapp was taken away in custody. “‘Thank you.’ And he will live a quiet life.”
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