WARREN, Pa. – Kidnapping and escape charges against Michael Burham will move ahead in the following two preliminary hearings held Monday at the Warren County Courthouse.
Separate hearings were held for each charge, as the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is handling the escape case.
The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is a prima facia case, that it’s likely that a crime was committed, and the defendant committed the crimes in question.
Magisterial District Judge Raymond Zydonik found that the burden of proof was met in both cases, which will now move forward to the Court of Common Pleas.
Burham is facing 33 charges on the kidnapping docket, including two counts each of Kidnapping to Inflict Injury or Terror, Using the Victims as a Shield or Hostage, Flight to Avoid or Flea the Area, Terroristic Threats, and Criminal Trespass.
In addition, a count of Theft by Unlawful Taking was added after Jessica Anundson, who along with her husband David were allegedly kidnapped by Burham, testified that Burham took clothing and water from their Mead Township home, and used David Anundson’s credit card to purchase gasoline.
Jessica Anundson testified that Burham confronted her in the couple’s garage shortly before Jessica Anundson was to leave to go to her granddaughter’s soccer game at the Warren YMCA.
“I had given David lunch and went to the garage and the suspect was looking in the driver’s side window,” Anundson testified. “I recognized his picture from the news but didn’t want him to know. I said ‘Who the hell are you?’ He said we were going to go on a trip. He pointed his gun at me. It was a big gun. He told me it was a 357. We own guns, so I was familiar.”
Anundson continued, saying Burham “took his pants off and he had a tarp wrapped around his waist.”
Burham continued into the house, where David Anundson was sitting in the kitchen.
“He tells me he wanted to go and get some clothing,” Jessica Anundson continued. “Michael made me pick them (the clothes) out. There were navy blue dress pants, socks, underwear, a western-style shirt, and belt. Both were very distinctive.”
Anundson further detailed in her testimony the 18 hours in which Burham drove them to Charleston, South Carolina.
“I pleaded with him not to take us, I told him to just take the car, but he wouldn’t,” Anundson testified. “I was very scared. I asked him if he was going to kill us, and he said not if you cooperate. I continued to ask him, and he also said no, I have too many charges already. When we stopped for gas in Marienville (Anundson confirmed it was the Kwik Fill just outside Marienville on Route 66), I asked my husband not to try and escape. I thought the next time we stopped for gas I might try, but my husband couldn’t get out and I wasn’t going to leave him.”
Anundson testified that she believes Burham had the gun on his person through the duration of the trip.
“He also showed me an aerial photo of our house,” Anundson continued. “He said he picked us because it (the house) is isolated and an elderly couple with no large dog. He told me he had stashed supplies behind the house and showed us in the picture where he stashed them.”
Anundson continued by saying that she wasn’t sure until the end of the drive where the final destination was, but that “he had it all plotted out on his phone.”
Burham dropped the couple off at a cemetery in Charleston and was apprehended days later by South Carolina authorities.
Under questioning from Deputy Attorney General Heather Serrano, City of Warren Police Detective Tiffany Post testified that Burham was provided bed sheets by other inmates to escape the Warren County Jail on July 6. Burham was being held in Warren County following arraignment on the kidnapping charges.
“It’s my understanding that the bed sheets were provided by other inmates,” Post testified. “There was a rope with bed sheets braided together and knotted at the top.”
Post couldn’t confirm the exact number of bed sheets used, but said that it was “approximately eight.”
Post’s testimony led to a charge of Criminal Conspiracy to be added to the escape charge.
Warren County Jail Corrections Officer Steve Belcher, who was working in the control room of the jail at the time of Burham’s escape, testified that he observed Burham climbing on top of exercise equipment.
“I was working in the control room and observed him climbing on top of exercise equipment,” Belcher testified. “I immediately called Officer Curtis to check the yard. His (Burham’s) feet disappeared and that’s as far as I could see with the camera. Officer Curtis checked the yard and called that he was on the roof. That’s when I called for additional officers to surround the jail. There was no delay in either call. It was immediate.”
A 9-day manhunt ended when Burham was captured off of Jackson Run Road in North Warren.
Burham is currently being held in the Erie County Jail while he awaits trial.