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Pennsylvania homicide suspect sentenced to decades in prison for kidnapping
January 08 2024, 08:00

A homicide suspect who escaped from a northwestern Pennsylvania prison last year and was on the run for more than a week before a pet dog led to his recapture has been sentenced to decades in prison.

Michael Burham, 35, was sentenced Friday in Warren County Court to serve from 25-plus years to 50-plus years after pleading guilty in November to charges in the July escape and the earlier kidnapping of a Pennsylvania couple.

Judge Gregory Hammond called Burham a "grave threat to the public" who would "do anything to anybody" to maintain his freedom, the (Warren) Times-Observer reported. Hammond said the 89-year-old and 68-year-old kidnapping victims, retraumatized by his escape, "will never completely recover" and the escape "has had a greater negative impact on the community" than anything else he could think of.


"Everyone in the community changed the way they lived their lives," Hammond said. "They know you were capable of victimizing a law-abiding couple in their own home."

Hammond sentenced Burham to 10- to 20-year terms on kidnapping and burglary charges and 3 1/2 to 7 years on the escape — which he said were the maximum terms allowed by law. He imposed lesser terms on reckless endangering, terroristic threatening, and theft counts. The judge also ordered some of the sentences to be served consecutively.

Burham’s attorney, Chief Public Defender Kord Kinney, had pointed out that his client only previously had a driving under the influence count on his record, had served 12 years in the Army reserves and had a solid work history. He said his client was "remorseful" and understands the impact of his actions.

Burham, given the opportunity to speak, apologized to the victims and "everyone in Warren" and also to Erie County correctional officers whom he said he had "treated poorly." Hammond said during the hearing that there had been 25 misconduct violations during Burham's time in the prison.


Burham had been accused of kidnapping the couple in Pennsylvania and driving them to South Carolina to evade a New York murder investigation when he escaped from the Warren County jail, about 66 miles east of Erie. Authorities said he climbed from exercise equipment to a grated metal roof and slid down a rope made of bedsheets.

During his time on the lam, police described Burham as "a self-taught survivalist with military experience," warning he could be dangerous. He evaded authorities for nine days before a couple responding to their barking dog encountered him. They contacted police and Burham was recaptured about two hours later.

His escape came just months before another high-profile incident in southeastern Pennsylvania, where a murderer evaded authorities for nearly two weeks.

District Attorney Jason Schmidt, of Chautauqua County, New York, said in June that Burham was the prime suspect in the May 11 killing of Kala Hodgkin, 34, and a related arson in Jamestown, New York. Officials in that state said they opted to let Pennsylvania handle the initial prosecution as they probe the killing and arson.