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Maine 'hermit' who lived in woods for three decades pleads guilty to theft; will be freed soon

Christopher Knight, the so-called North Pond Hermit, in an April 2013 booking photo.
Christopher Knight, the so-called North Pond Hermit, in an April 2013 booking photo.Kennebec County Sheriff's Office / AP, file

The Maine man who locked himself away in the woods for 27 years, living as a hermit and stealing to survive, could be a free man within weeks after pleading guilty to theft charges Monday.

Christopher Knight, 47 — known as the North Pond Hermit — was put into a diversion program to keep him out of state prison and help him reintegrate into society.

He will remain in county lockup for a short time but most of his five-year sentence was suspended as part of his plea deal, the Associated Press reported.

After he was arrested in April at the scene of a break-in with a backpack full of purloined food and supplies, Knight admitted to committing 1,000 or more thefts from camps and home ringing the pond over the years.

In a tale that invited awe, he told police he had walked into the woods at age 19 and never looked back — cutting off contact with his family and the rest of society and holing up in a camouflaged campsite through bitter winters.

Several family members were in the courtroom for Monday's hearing, the Portland Press-Herald reported.

Since his bust, Knight has refused interview requests, book and movie-deal offers and even a marriage proposal, though he did befriend the trooper handling his case.

When he's released from jail, he will live and work in the community and receive counseling for alcohol abuse. He could be in the diversion program for up to three years, and if he misbehaves, he faces possible prison time.

When the judge told Knight that he will have to check in with the court and truthfully answer questions every week, he asked: "Who will decide what is the truth?"

The judge said she would "as a last resort."

Knight's lawyer, Walter McKee, said the transition will likely be tough.

"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."

A date has not been set for Knight's release, but McKee said it could be within a few months.

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