Accused Utah cabin burglar fires defense lawyers

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:50 PM

Paul Foy

MANTI — A wilderness fugitive is repeating his solitary ways in a Utah court, where he wants to represent himself on charges of breaking into dozens of mountain cabins while evading authorities for years.

Troy James Knapp has fired his defense lawyers, and on Thursday he told court officials he wants to represent himself at an evidence hearing on charges filed by one Utah county.

The wish was granted. Court records show Knapp’s public defender in Sanpete County was excused Thursday by 6th District Judge Wallace Lee in Manti.

An online court docket says Knapp will act as his own lawyer at the Aug. 26 preliminary hearing.

Knapp has also tried to fire Wally Bugden of Salt Lake City, a private lawyer hired by his parents to negotiate a plea deal on 39 charges in six Utah counties. More charges are expected from a seventh county, and federal prosecutors are looking to add firearms violations.

Knapp has thrown a plea deal into doubt by firing the lawyers, and officials say it could add years to an eventual prison sentence.

Knapp, 45, a California parolee who went on the run in 2004, is suspected of living at or ransacking remote Utah cabins for guns, supplies and whisky. The charges go back to 2009, but authorities believe he was breaking into cabins long before that. By 2007, Utah sheriffs began investigating a string of cabin burglaries they believed were tied to one suspect.

He told authorities he just didn’t like living around people. Apparently he doesn’t like lawyers, either.

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.

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