IONIA (WWJ/AP) – A convicted killer who escaped from a Michigan prison says it “was relatively simple.”
Michael Elliot was discovered missing Feb. 2 during an inmate count after escaping from the Ionia Correctional Facility, 30 miles east of Grand Rapids. Elliot, 40, was arrested Monday in Indiana after a woman he abducted alerted police to his whereabouts.
Elliot, who was locked up for decades after being convicted of four murders, made his one phone call Saturday to the Detroit Free Press to discuss his escape with the newspaper.
“I just seen an opportunity,” Elliot said. “It was relatively simple.”
According to court records, Elliot began his escape at 6 p.m. Sunday and was out of the facility by 6:53 p.m. Corrections officers noticed Elliot was missing around 9:15 p.m. during a prisoner count.
“You can clearly see him leaving his housing unit, going to an area that prisoners are not allowed to be in, go down to the fence line and then spend the better part of an hour going through two perimeter fences,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.
The fences are equipped with motion sensors and carry electric current to shock anyone who touches them, but Elliot said he used his hands to loosen and pull back fencing on vehicle gate portions that don’t carry an electric charge. Motion sensors should have triggered an alarm and flashing light in the control center, Marlan said, “but yet they didn’t go off, or he obviously wasn’t detected.”
Elliot, who said he had been planning the escape for months, told the Freep that layered white thermals underneath his blue jail uniform so he could blend into the snowy terrain outside. He even had white shoes, white gloves and a white ski mask. Once outside, he ripped off the prison suit, dived into the snow, crawled to a fence and went under it.
Elliot said it took at least 30 minutes to escape and another hour to run to the city of Ionia. He said he jumped in the snow every time he saw a car.
Once in Ionia, Elliot started looking for a running car to steal. Armed with a box cutter and hammer he found along his journey, Elliot approached a woman at her vehicle and said “Hey, move over.” Elliot jumped into the back seat of the woman’s red Jeep and told her he just escaped from prison.
“I assured her all the way there that I wasn’t going to do her any harm,” he said. “All I wanted to do was just get away.”
The woman drove Elliot to a gas station some 100 miles south near Middlebury in Elkhart County, Ind., where he took her keys and went to change into dry clothes he found inside the woman’s vehicle. Meanwhile, the woman, who had a cellphone concealed in her pocket, locked herself in a bathroom and called 911. Elliot realized his luck might be changing, so he got back into the Jeep and started to leave.
“And then as I’m pulling away I seen the cops come,” he said.
Elliot drove the Jeep to nearby Shipshewana, where he abandoned the vehicle. He then went to a factory in La Porte where he stole another vehicle. After being notified of the stolen vehicle, a deputy on duty saw Elliot “within a few seconds” and initiated a traffic stop. Elliot tried to run, but he was eventually captured and taken back to the La Porte County Jail.
When asked if he had any regrets or would do anything differently, Elliot told the Free Press: “In a way, I wish I wouldn’t have did it.”
Two employees at the prison have been suspended — one is an officer and the other is a shift commander. Marlan declined to provide their names or any other details but said the suspensions are related to the investigation at the Ionia Correctional Facility.
Corrections officials expect wrap up their internal investigation into the escape next week. Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette meanwhile announced a separate, independent review of what happened.
Snyder said in a statement Friday that he has full confidence in MDOC Director Dan Heyns’ internal investigation, but that a separate review can only help prevent future escapes.
“This additional step will … ensure we have the most thorough and comprehensive information possible,” Snyder said.
Schuette will issue a report about his office’s findings. No timeframe was provided.
“We will conduct an aggressive investigation, without fear or favor. … This will be an exhaustive investigation,” Schuette said in a statement.
Elliot has refused to waive extradition and is being held in Indiana on a $1 million bond. He’s charged with auto theft in Indiana, as well as carjacking, kidnapping and escape in Michigan.
Elliot was serving life in prison without parole for fatally shooting four people and burning down their Gladwin County house in 1993 when he was 20-years-old. He and his accomplices were trying to steal money from a drug dealer at the time, police said.
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