AUGUSTA — Christopher T. Knight is no longer alone, no longer out of sight, and no longer resembles the person police arrested nearly two months ago.
The man known as the North Pond Hermit — who police say admitted committing more than 1,000 burglaries to survive while spending more than two decades alone in the woods — now spends his days in the Kennebec County jail with at least 100 other inmates, plus staff.
On Tuesday, he was brought to Kennebec County Superior Court handcuffed to some of those inmates and learned that it could be months before the State Forensic Service completes his mental health evaluation, a key step before the case can proceed.
“The evaluation is not going to be done right away; they’re really backed up over there,” Justice Michaela Murphy said to both Knight and James Billings, the attorney representing him Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Scores of people in the courtroom — almost all of them there for other hearings — watched the brief proceeding Tuesday morning.
Knight, 47, formerly of Albion, appeared to have lost weight since his arrest on April 4 and had new, wire-rimmed glasses instead of the thick, black-framed glasses that he wore at the time of his arrest. He has told authorities the glasses were the only things he owned and he had worn them since the late 1980s.
In court Tuesday, he wore a white, crew-neck T-shirt under a short-sleeved green jail uniform. His beard was trimmed and his head almost bald. He was walked to court in leg shackles and handcuffs with a half dozen or so other inmates and walked a half-block back to the jail, handcuffed to one of them.
Knight was scheduled for a status conference in connection with a burglary and theft that occurred April 4 at the Pine Tree Camp in Rome. He has told authorities he was responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries that occurred in the area of North Pond, Little North Pond and East Pond during the 27 years he spent alone living in the woods.
Knight has been in custody since his arrest at the camp when a game warden and state police trooper stopped him as he left the dining hall with a backpack and duffel bag laden with food and tools.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, Knight spoke only with his attorney, James Billings, leaning over to converse as they sat in an area reserved for those in police custody. Billings said he did not know when Knight’s court-ordered mental health evaluation would occur, and Billings said Knight does not need to be taken to court until it is completed.
Murphy asked whether Knight had agreed to waive a requirement that his case be brought before a grand jury within six months. Billings — who was representing Knight on behalf of his partner, Walter McKee — said he did not know.
The judge also asked whether there was an agreement to postpone bringing the case to the grand jury. “I’m not in a position to do that, your honor,” Billings told her.
Murphy also asked Billings to “clarify the nature of the agreement” between McKee and District Attorney Maeghan Maloney concerning the grand jury presentation.
Maloney last week said she had talked to McKee and agreed not to present the case against Knight to a grand jury sitting this week in Kennebec County. McKee, meanwhile, had agreed to waive speedy trial concerns.
Both Maloney and McKee, neither of whom was in the courtroom Tuesday, had struck the deal because they want the results of the mental health evaluation before allowing the case to move forward.
McKee also said Knight had yet to be interviewed by the State Forensic Service. Examiners in that office — normally forensic psychologists — evaluate defendants on behalf of the court and report on their mental competency to proceed with a trial. The same office also can examine the defendants to determine mental responsibility for criminal conduct, according to state law.
Along with the April 4 burglary and theft, Knight also is charged with a burglary and theft that occurred last fall at the Pine Tree Camp as well as a break-in at a private residence nearby. He has not been charged — and probably won’t be — in connection with hundreds of additional burglaries because of the statute of limitations.
Knight’s story of surviving alone so long in the Maine woods and burglarizing camps for supplies has attracted worldwide media attention and some sympathy, but some victims of the burglaries have said they will feel more secure this summer knowing a suspect is behind bars.
Sheriff’s deputies, state police and wardens for decades had sought an elusive burglar who seemed to know when camp owners had stocked up on food and propane and other supplies. His image was caught several times on surveillance cameras, but he was able to elude capture.
Knight reportedly told investigators that he had spoken to only one other person in his years in the woods — a passing hiker in the 1990s.
Knight offered no explanation for leaving his home and his family around 1986. He said had not been in contact with them since then, although some family members have been in contact with him at the jail. He remains there in lieu of $25,000 cash bail, which carries special conditions.
Betty Adams — 621-5631