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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Troy James Knapp: Utah's "Mountain Man Burglar"

     In 1986, when he was 28, Troy James Knapp went to prison in Kalamazoo, Michigan for burglary and related offenses. Knapp pleaded guilty to destroying property in 1994 while living in Salt Lake City. Two years later, police in Seattle arrested him on the charge of stalking and harassment. In 2002, after serving two years in a California prison for burglary, Knapp left the state in violation of his parole.

     In 2007, the wilderness survivalist (he survived on other people's stuff) lived in the mountains of southern Utah. In the summers he stole food and gear from cabins in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties, and moved from one campsite to the next. During the winter months Knapp lived in the cabins he burglarized in the summer. The owners would return to their seasonal dwellings to find bullet holes in the walls and doors. Knapp also left notes with messages like: "Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain." (If everyone had packed up and left, Knapp would have starved.)

     Between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties charged Knapp with 13 felony burglary crimes and 5 misdemeanor offenses. Because of the remoteness of Knapp's break-ins and the fact he kept on the move, he had eluded capture for more than five years.

     In late February 2013, a man hunting with his son in Sanpete County crossed paths with Knapp about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Aware they had conversed with the mountain man burglar, the father notified the authorities.

     A few days after speaking with the hunters 9,000 feet up on a mountain near Ferron Reservoir in the central part of the state, forty police officers and a law enforcement helicopter closed in on the fugitive as he trudged through three feet of snow. After firing fifteen rifle shots at the helicopter, Knapp surrendered to the small army of approaching lawmen.

     When taken into custody, Knapp possessed an assault rifle and a handgun. He was booked into the Sanpete County Jail without bond. An Assistant United States Attorney in Utah charged Knapp with several federal firearms offenses.

     In April 2014, pursuant to an arranged plea bargain, Knapp pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the use of a firearm during a crime of violence. At his sentence hearing on June 9, 2014, federal court judge Ted Stewart handed down the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

     Knapp's attorney, in addressing the court, said, "There's an admiration for somebody who chooses to live off the land, because he does it while the rest of us wouldn't. Even if he needs a little help from some cabin owners."

     Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel had a different take on the case. He told reporters after the federal sentencing that Knapp was nothing more than a "common crook." Knapp had agreed to plead guilty to the burglary charges filed against him in the seven Utah counties. According to those plea deals, he faced fifteen years in each county, the sentences to run together.

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