SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A lawyer is trying to negotiate a plea deal that would resolve dozens of charges across multiple Utah counties for the solitary wilderness fugitive accused of spending years breaking into remote Utah cabins for guns, supplies and whisky.
Troy James Knapp lived in snowbound cabins, sleeping in the owners' beds, eating their food and listening to their radios for updates on the manhunt for him, authorities say. In summer he retreated deep into the woods with a doomsday supply of guns, dehydrated foods, radios, batteries and high-end camping gear.
"He wouldn't say, 'I'm Robin Hood,'" said Wally Bugden, a Salt Lake City criminal lawyer hired by his parents in Idaho. "He isn't trying to romanticize himself."
Knapp, 45, appeared briefly in court Wednesday in rural Manti, not far from the mountain reservoir in the Manti-LaSal National Forest where he was captured April 2. It's about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.
He faces 39 charges of breaking into mountain cabins in six Utah counties, online dockets show, with more charges expected from a seventh county. Federal prosecutors are looking to add firearms violations.
A resolution of the charges isn't expected for weeks or months. Bugden, likening himself to an orchestra conductor, said he was trying to arrange a single plea deal with prosecutors and public defenders from each of the counties, plus the federal government.
Knapp has been disagreeable — he tried to fire a public defender at his last court appearance June 5 — and could blow a chance to shorten a prison term if he messes up a deal, Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel said.
"If he wants to shuffle from county to county to answer every charge in the state, we'll let him do that," Keisel said. "Every county wants a pound of flesh."
Things didn't go well Wednesday, when Knapp suggested he had fired Bugden and that "all deals are off," court clerks said. The proceeding was over in minutes, and Knapp won't return until a vacationing judge sets a date for a preliminary hearing.
Knapp, known by locals as the Mountain Man, left signature clues — rumpled bed sheets, sometimes a note taunting cabin owners or a sheriff, and often an empty bottle of liquor. In one cabin burglary two winters ago, authorities say they lifted fingerprints from a Jim Beam bottle. It wasn't until early 2012 that authorities identified Knapp as the suspect from cabin surveillance photos and fingerprints.
A man with a long criminal record and no known occupation, Knapp outwitted authorities by moving often and quickly with a heavy backpack across a mountainous region stretching for 180 miles. He covered his tracks or changed stolen footwear to confuse searchers. His legend grew over the years, but authorities say ransacking cabins doesn't make him a folk hero.
"He's not to be romanticized," Keisel said. "He's a common crook. This isn't a mountain man."
Knapp is awaiting a preliminary hearing on the 11 charges filed thus far by Sanpete County, which expects to add more before it's finished with him.
The charges against Knapp go back to 2009, but authorities believe he was breaking into cabins long before that. He fell off the radar in 2004, when California authorities say he absconded from parole on a theft conviction. By 2007, Utah sheriffs began investigating a string of cabin burglaries they believed were tied to one person.
He told authorities he just didn't like living around people.