By Dave Sherwood
AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) - A Maine man who claims to have spent 27 years living in the woods as a hermit pleaded guilty on Monday to burglary and theft in a deal in which he will receive mental health counseling to re-enter society.
Judge Nancy Mills, of Maine Superior Court, ordered Christopher Knight, 47, to check in weekly with the court to confirm that he is either working full time, attend schooling or volunteering, and undergoing mental health counseling for a year to ensure a "successful" return to the community.
"This is someone who has had no involvement with anybody for 27 years," Knight's lawyer, Walter McKee, said. "It's a very unique case, a very unique sentence for a very unique person."
Knight said he walked into the woods in 1986 shortly after he heard about the Chernobyl nuclear accident and claims to have had little human contact since.
He pleaded guilty on Monday to 13 counts of burglary and theft, and was returned to jail to await his release when terms of the agreement are finalized.
Knight was arrested in April after police said they caught him stealing food and supplies he needed to survive from a summer camp for the disabled along North Pond about 20 miles west of Maine's capital of Augusta.
Gaunt and pale with a full beard, Knight listened quietly as Mills asked if he understood he would be required to tell his court-appointed case manager "the truth" in order to receive the best rehabilitation treatment possible.
"Who will decide what is the truth?" Knight replied.
McKee said Knight poses no threat to society, but it was still unclear where he would reside upon release.
"That's been the big issue since day one, where is he going to go?," said McKee, who said no one knew how Knight might respond to the everyday pressures of society.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said the agreement hinged on the nature of Knight's crimes.
"He was stealing peanut butter. He was not stealing jewelry. And he did not at any point attack a human being. Those were top considerations," she said.
Knight initially pleaded not guilty when indicted in August, but changed his plea on Monday after lawyers and the judge agreed to the alternative sentence and rehabilitation.
Knight's case has been romanticized by many, but police say that he committed as many as 1,000 burglaries in order to survive.
Knight's camp, well-appointed with a tent, sleeping bags and cook stove, was just a few hundred yards from the nearest house. It was hidden among boulders and crevices on a hillside of evergreens, leaving neighbors uneasy for decades.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)