Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle A. Henry has taken over the investigation into the escape of Michael Burham, a homicide suspect and kidnapping defendant in Pennsylvania. Burham was on the run for 9 days after breaking out of a jail in Pennsylvania’s Warren County last month. A preliminary hearing on the case is slated for August 21.
Burham was captured after local and state law enforcement primarily led by the Pennsylvania State Police responded to an afternoon report of a suspicious person on the property of a Conewango Township resident.
State and local law enforcement deployed significant personnel to the area and created a large perimeter before a brief search in the woods ended in bringing a visibly tired and unarmed Burham still wearing his prison pants into custody.
Burham was found unarmed. He was suspected to be “armed and dangerous” by state and local law enforcement before his capture when he escaped on the eve of July 6 by allegedly using exercise equipment to get himself up and through a hole in the roof covering and then used a makeshift rope made of bedding to get himself down. Over the next 9 days, more than 200 law enforcement officers and over 15 agencies would work to find Burham.
With the case recently being referred to the Attorney General’s office, it’s unclear what leads are still being explored until a hearing is held on the matter later this month, but before the AG’s office accepted the case, Pennsylvania State Police and then after the manhunt, for a brief time, local Warren police, were exploring multiple leads including possible help Burham got from inside the jail and any aid he could’ve received during his nine days on the run.
“Escapes from high security or medium security prisons are really quite, quite rare these days, but jails less so,” Robert McCrie, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice told The Crime Report.
McCrie, whose research and teaching focus on security management, the history of crime and countermeasures, and the history of corrections has visited around 200 correctional programs in 12 different countries while working on prison reform.
According to McCrie, escapees are usually recovered within 72 hours.
The U.S. Marshal was originally offering a reward of up to $7,500 for information leading to Burham’s arrest, with an additional $2,000 reward from Warren County Crime Stoppers but as the investigation went on the reward was raised to a total of $22,00 just two days before Pennsylvania State Police responded to a tip leading to Burham’s arrest.
Before his escape, Burham was being held on $1 million bail and facing charges related to arson and burglary and he was also a suspect in a homicide investigation. Shortly before his initial arrest he allegedly was involved in a carjacking and kidnapping case where he is accused of kidnapping an elderly Pennsylvania couple while evading law enforcement and driving them to North Charleston before he was initially arrested.
Burham is the prime suspect in the shooting death and alleged rape of Kala Hodgkin in May of this year and the arson of another woman’s car in Jamestown, New York.
Burham has developed survival skills over the years and has had military training, so hiding out in the woods was not out of the question, according to a statement released by police.
In the days leading up to Burham’s capture, Pennsylvania State Police told reporters that they found a stockpile of food, clothing, and other materials in bags wrapped in a tarp in a wooded area near Warren, Pennsylvania that law enforcement has now linked to Burham through DNA testing. The State Police initially released photos of the tarp and bags with hopes that it may help the public call in any more leads.
“What I’m asking is that while people are out hiking or biking or whatever in the woods…particularly with the weekend, there will be an influx of people, we are asking them to just be alert to anything like that, and if they see something give us a call so we can check it out,” Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens told reporters a day before Burham’s capture.
The Warren County resident who spotted Burham on his property went into his yard after he came out of his house to see what his dog was barking about and had a brief conversation with Burham where the resident recognized the escapee.
“That’s been our strategy all along is to push him hard, to have him make a mistake,” Bivens said in a press conference announcing Burham’s arrest, A.J. Rao reports for USA Today.
“He finally did and it was spotted by an individual.”
When Pennsylvania State Police were still the prime law enforcement agency leading the manhunt, they announced they were investigating a drone that flew past the jail on the night of Burham’s escape.
“An escape ordinarily involves help inside as well as outside,” McCrie said.
According to State Police Lieutenant Bivens, multiple people heard the drone that is said to have flown over the Warren County jail around the time of Durham’s escape, The Associated Press reports.
“I’m not a big believer in coincidences,” said Biven in a press conference covered by the Associated Press while Burham was still at large.
“There could be a perfectly innocent and reasonable explanation… If there’s not an innocent explanation, perhaps that assists us in finding him and also finding anyone providing aid.”
“Any investigation is going to turn to other inmates, those who are in close contact with him, including those who may have been at the gym area when he escaped,” said McCrie who doesn’t rule out the possibility of Burham having help including from the security personnel at the prison.
“What was their [the jail’s security personnel] level of culpability in any kind of an event like this?” McCrie said.
McCrie also would not count out the possibility of an inmate at the Warren jail leaking intel to law enforcement.
“Ordinarily, it’s really a serious breach to squeal on other inmates. But in this case, it would be acceptable, because what will generally happen after an escape occurs, is the individual will cause a sanction for the entire institution and they’ll suffer when they haven’t done anything wrong,” McCrie said.
A former inmate at Warren Country Prison told NewsNation last week that he has trouble seeing how the escape could have been pulled off without help on the inside to get enough bedding to create a rope to escape.
“I feel like it was given to him. I feel that it had to have been an inside job,” the former inmate told NewsNation.
“I’m not a worker and I can’t honestly say I know for a fact, but I can tell you you’re limited to supplies. You’re limited to certain things.”
Although an escapee missing for over a week puts all eyes on the management of Warren County’s jail, McCrie highlights the security issues facing many jails and prisons in the country.
“We’re in a time right now, we saw that in Philadelphia, you see it in New York and Rikers Island, and probably also at Warren County Prison, that there are severe staff problems in the facilities that are leading to more vulnerability in terms of the ability to manage the prison population,” McCrie said.
While Burham was still on the run, the Warren County Prison Board and Commissioners released a statement on changes they will make to the Warren jail based on an assessment done of the facility after the jailbreak.
The board plans to immediately repair the roof of the prison yard, a 40′ x 40′ room on the top floor with a cage. In the next week, the board also plans on implementing enhanced deterrents and safety features and replacing the jail’s exercise equipment to eliminate access to higher areas within the facility.
A thorough review of inmate access and observation policies is underway to bolster security within the facility while balancing incarcerated individuals’ right to yard time while ensuring safety. The Warren County District Attorney, Rob Greene, has requested a comprehensive evaluation of the facility and its policies in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections.
The commissioners and prison board also commended their staff for doing all they could when the alert of Burham’s escape was made.
“The Prison Staff has worked tirelessly to collaborate with local and regional law enforcement to assist with all investigations, and they are to be commended for their efforts,” the board and commission said in their statement last week.
When the manhunt concluded, Pennsylvania state police handed the investigation over to local Warren police before the case was recently turned over to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. A preliminary hearing on the escape is scheduled for August 21 in Warren, an AG spokesperson told The Crime Report.