SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — At first, many locals took to calling Troy James Knapp the mountain man. Even victims of his many cabin break-ins marveled over his ability to slip back into the woods and evade authorities over six years.
But on Wednesday, as the trim 45-year-old whom police characterize as a reclusive survivalist made his first court appearance by grainy video feed from Sanpete County jail, a prosecutor sought to dispel Knapp's image as some sort of folk hero.
"He wants to be viewed as a gentle drifter in the forest, a romantic figure," Brody Keisel, the county attorney, told The Associated Press. "I'm convinced he's a criminal. When I grew up, a mountain man was different. This guy was going from cabin to cabin and enjoying the night in a queen-sized bed."
Knapp appeared by video for only 10 minutes inside 6th District Court in the rural town of Manti, answering "yes" to Judge Marvin Bagley about his identity and whether he understood the latest of 29 burglary-related felony and misdemeanor charges filed against him across four Utah counties. The charges could keep him behind bars for life.
Authorities said Knapp, whose identity was revealed a year ago from cabin surveillance photos and fingerprints, has been regaling detectives with stories about his long wilderness run and how he managed to evade them.
"He says, 'You don't know all about the burglaries,'" Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis said.
Knapp also has been telling authorities where he stored stolen weapons and camping gear, according to investigators.
"He's trying to help us get property back to folks," Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson said.
In Sanpete County, Knapp faces initial charges of three cabin burglaries, theft of a hatchet, GPS device and other items and criminal mischief for broken windows.
The judge assigned a public defender after finding Knapp had no money to afford a lawyer.