By Dave Sherwood
AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) – A Maine man who lived in the woods with nearly no human contact for 27 years, supporting himself by stealing food and supplies, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to seven counts of burglary and six of theft.
Christopher Knight, 47, was clean-shaven with closely cropped hair and looked well fed at the time of his arrest in April. He has grown a full beard in his four months in prison and now looks gaunt.
Since his capture, he has been the subject of a documentary, countless media stories, received marriage proposals and a “no-strings-attached” offer by a stranger to pay his bail.
Wearing baggy green prison clothes as he sat in a courthouse just 20 miles east of his long-time woodland hideout, Knight appeared unfazed by the bustle of reporters and television cameras.
He answered “not guilty” to each of the counts but otherwise did not address the court.
Justice Michaela Murphy set Knight’s trial for October 8. Prosecution and defense attorneys said they were confident they would be able to reach a plea deal that would avoid trial.
“We’re trying to come to an agreement that includes both the punishment angle and rehabilitation,” said Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, adding that Knight was found competent to stand trial.
Police contend Knight committed as many as 1,000 burglaries in order to survive. The list of stolen items runs the gamut from flashlights, electrical tape and propane to video games and marshmallows.
Authorities initially said Knight confessed to many of the burglaries. His attorney Walter McKee said Knight pleaded “not guilty” because of technicalities involved with the confession.
He noted Knight said he had “always 100 percent completely accepted responsibility for what he did,” and called the situation “awkward.”
Knight has offered little explanation for why he walked away from his home in 1986 and began a life with almost no human contact. He was arrested in April after police said they caught him stealing food and supplies from a summer camp for the disabled.
At the time he was arrested, authorities said everything but his eyeglasses, the same pair he wore in a photo taken of him shortly before he disappeared, was stolen.
Knight’s camp, well-appointed with a tent, sleeping bags and cookstove, was hidden amongst boulders and crevices on a hillside of evergreens just a few hundred yards from the nearest house.
The judge confirmed bail at $25,000, but prohibited third parties from offering it, making it unlikely Knight, who has no possessions, would post it.
“There are those who don’t think he should be prosecuted at all. Others think he should be in prison for the rest of his life,” said Maloney. “But no one wants him to return to the life he was living before unless he can do so legally.”
(Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)