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Utah 'Mountain Man' burglar gets 10½ years in federal prison

Published June 9, 2014 9:29 pm

Courts • Troy Knapp will spend at least 10½ years in prison on numerous federal and state charges.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

St. George • After six years of living off the land — oftentimes at the expense of Utah cabin owners — Troy Knapp, the so-called "Mountain Man," will spend at least 10½ years behind bars.

Before sentencing Knapp to 126 months in prison for firing on law enforcement before his arrest last year, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart told Knapp that he posed "a rather interesting picture."

The judge told the wilderness survivalist that it was unfortunate he had used his intellect and skills in a criminal way.

"You obviously are a man of some intelligence and resourcefulness for you to survive how you have, and elude law enforcement as you did," the judge said as Knapp nodded in agreement.

For about six years before his capture, Knapp weathered the winter months in the mountains of southern and central Utah by breaking into cabins, where he often stole firearms and food.

"You perhaps ought to write a book," Stewart said. "You're going to have time to write a book."

In April, Knapp, 46, pleaded guilty in federal court to use of a firearm during a violent crime. As part of a plea agreement, charges of assaulting a federal officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm were dismissed.

Federal prosecutor Matthew Bell told the judge that everyone involved in Knapp's capture — including the helicopter pilot who was shot at — was on board with the plea agreement and proposed sentence.

Less than hour after the federal sentence was handed down, Knapp appeared in district court, where he resolved cases filed in seven counties — pleading guilty to 10 counts of second-degree felony burglary.

After the pleas, 5th District Judge Eric Ludlow sentenced Knapp to one to 15 years on each case. But Ludlow ordered that the state sentences run concurrently to one another, as well as to the federal court sentence.

Knapp, clean-cut and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, said little during both hearings Monday. His attorney, Kathy Nester, told the judge that Knapp appreciated prosecutors negotiating the plea deal, and added that he has worked with state and federal authorities to locate a number of stolen weapons since his arrest.

"Thirteen handguns, two rifles and a shotgun were recovered," Nester said. "They were exactly where Mr. Knapp advised law enforcement they would be."

Two cabin owners from Garfield County were in attendance at the hearings Monday, but did not speak at the sentencing.

After the hearing, Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel said that the process of coming to the plea agreement was like "herding cats," because of the number of state and federal officials, law enforcement agencies and victims involved in the case.

"It was quite an undertaking," Keisel said.

He emphasized that once Knapp's federal sentence is complete, he will be transported back to Utah, where he will appear before the parole board. That panel will decide whether he should be released or continue serving up to another 4½ years in state prison. Knapp has requested to serve his time at a medium-security federal prison in Oregon.

Defense attorney Jay Winward said outside of court that Knapp was satisfied with Monday's proceedings.

"This was a just outcome, and it was a great resolution," Winward said. "… Mr. Knapp is very grateful that it came together in a way that justice was served and yet he can move forward."

Knapp managed to elude cabin owners and law enforcement officers for years as he broke into Utah cabins during the winter months for shelter and supplies.

Authorities finally got a solid lead on his whereabouts in April 2013 from a group of people collecting antlers on central Utah's Ferron Mountain who reported seeing someone who looked like the wanted man.

Emery County deputies tracked Knapp for several days, as he wandered near the Ferron Reservoir area of Sanpete County.

On April 2, a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter spotted Knapp chopping wood outside a cabin. Police say Knapp fired a weapon at the copter and pointed a weapon at officers before he was taken into custody.

The federal indictment alleges Knapp was armed with an SKS-type assault rifle and a .357-caliber handgun, which authorities previously have said were stolen during a Sevier County burglary.

Knapp was charged in seven Utah counties — Beaver, Emery, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Sanpete and Sevier — with a total of 43 felony and misdemeanor charges, mostly theft and burglary counts. The state cases have been on hold since the federal charges were filed last October.

During the break-ins, Knapp is believed to have sometimes taken food or alcohol, sometimes supplies or guns. Cabin owners often reported little damage to their summer homes beyond a broken window or closet door, but said it looked like someone had lived in them for a period of time.

One cabin owner in Beaver County reported that his camp stove had been moved and used to cook beans, but nothing had been missing. However, in a family log, Knapp had allegedly left a message: "Thanks for the hospitality, Troy James the redhead."

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller