ST. GEORGE, Utah — He eluded police for more than six years, ransacking cabins across a wide swath of Utah as he trekked hundreds of miles alone on his snowshoes with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
After authorities caught him last year, he continued his solitary ways in court as he fired his defense attorney and defiantly told a judge he would represent himself against a host of state and federal burglary and theft charges.
But on Monday in a courtroom in St. George, Troy James Knapp, known by many as the “Mountain Man,” was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. Knapp agreed to a plea deal on federal weapons charges that stem from him firing shots at agents during his capture in April 2013.
Knapp, 46, will next go before a state judge Monday where he’s scheduled to take plea deals from seven Utah counties where he is charged with burglary-related crimes. Details of the plea deals are not being disclosed, but he’s charged with more than 40 burglary-related crimes dating back to 2009.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Matthew Bell said Knapp has been cooperating with authorities since agreeing to the plea deal this spring, helping them find 16 weapons he had stored away in four locations in four different counties. That included 13 handguns, two rifles and 1 one shotgun, Bell said.
Authorities say Knapp began a string of cabin burglaries across southern and central Utah in 2007.
Knapp is set to take individual plea deals for each county, but prosecutors in the seven counties have been working together to make sure everybody is on board with the package of deals, said Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel.
He’s charged in Beaver, Emery, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Sanpete and Sevier counties.
If the deals go through as expected, it will signal the end of what could be the final chapter in the mysterious story of an unknown California fugitive who became a sensation in Utah as he raided cabins, stealing guns, whiskey and supplies.
Knapp was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and got into trouble with the law early. As a teenager, he was convicted of breaking and entering, passing bad checks and unlawful flight from authorities, according to court records. Knapp drifted across the country and ended up in prison in California for burglary. He fell off the radar in 2004 when he “went on the run” while on parole.
In 2007, southern Utah authorities began investigating a string of cabin burglaries in southern and central Utah they believed were tied to one person. It wasn’t until early 2012 that they identified Knapp as the suspect from cabin surveillance photos and fingerprints lifted from a Jim Beam bottle in one cabin.
In one photo, he was wearing camouflage, a rifle was slung over his shoulder and he had purple-colored aluminum snowshoes on his feet.
Authorities say Knapp spent winters holed up in snowbound cabins, sleeping in the owners’ beds, eating their food and listening to their AM radio for updates about the manhunt. In summer he retreated deep into the woods with a doomsday supply of guns, dehydrated foods, radios, batteries and high-end camping gear.
Knapp’s signature clues were rumpled bed sheets and an empty bottle of whisky, authorities said. Sometimes he left notes taunting authorities, including one that warned a sheriff that he was “gonna put you in the ground!” Other times, he left thank you notes. In one break-in in Garfield County, police say Knapp cooked some beans and left a note in the cabin log that said “Thanks for the hospitality, Troy James the red head.”
After years of being unable to catch him, authorities finally closed in on Knapp around Easter 2013 by using some of his own tactics. After tracking him by snowshoes for three days, dozens of officers converged on him in snowmobiles and a snowcat, flushing him out of the cabin. He fired several shots at officers and a helicopter, and tried to flee on snowshoes before being caught.
Since his arrest, prosecutors have been eager to tamp down the notion that Knapp was some sort of folk hero by insisting Knapp is nothing more than a criminal living off others for years.
McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.