IONIA (WWJ/AP) – A convicted murderer who broke out of a Michigan prison in February was arraigned on escape, carjacking and kidnapping charges earlier this week.
Michael Elliot appeared in Ionia District Court on Wednesday, where Judge Raymond Voet entered not-guilty pleas on his behalf. Voet scheduled a court conference for May 5 and a probable cause hearing for May 7.
Elliot, wearing shackles and a standard blue prison uniform over a white undershirt, said very little during the hearing, which lasted about five minutes. He elected to keep the court-appointed attorney as his defense lawyer.
The 40-year-old was captured in LaPorte County, Ind., a day after escaping Ionia Correctional Facility in western Michigan on Super Bowl Sunday. He allegedly slipped under gates and made holes in fences before carjacking a woman.
Kidnapping and carjacking are felonies punishable by a life sentence, while prison escape is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, Voet said. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution did not return requests for comment.
Michigan’s top corrections official said Elliot managed to escape primarily because guards didn’t properly operate motion-detector alarms at the gate where he broke out. Two prison employees were suspended, and the state attorney general is reviewing the escape.
According to a March report by the state Corrections Department’s internal affairs division, Elliot escaped on Feb. 2 by using a hook from his locker to clear snow by a fence and crawl under. Wearing all white to blend in with snow, Elliot stopped and lay still near the vehicle gate as a perimeter patrol vehicle passed by a few times. He used hobby craft scissors and his belt to open the chain link fencing.
Officials say after the escape, Elliot stole a Jeep in Ionia with a woman inside. She got free uninjured and called 911 when they stopped for gas that night more than 100 miles away from the prison.
Police then chased and captured Elliot in another stolen vehicle in LaPorte County on Feb. 3.
Elliot could have been detected if alarms near the gate were properly activated, the report concluded. A control center officer failed to reset two alarms for 5½ hours after they were tested, and a supervisor who noticed the problem left when her shift was over without notifying others to check the gate. Investigators said the failure to reset the alarms was a “critical error” that played a “major role.”
An alarm sensor in another area of the facility was also misaligned and pointing too high, allowing Elliot to crawl underneath an invisible detection beam without being noticed.
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, police said.
Elliot claims to be innocent of the slayings. A co-defendant says he pulled the trigger and Elliot played no part.
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