LAPORTE | Presumed escapee and convicted murderer Michael Elliot is fighting two governors in what could be an attempt to prove he is not the inmate who vanished from a Michigan prison.
The 41-year-old man on Friday exercised his right to stay in the LaPorte County Jail, perhaps, to mount a case that he is not the prison escapee serving life for four killings.
LaPorte Circuit Court Judge Tom Alevizos had no choice but to grant his request for an extended stay and hearing where he has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he is not Michael Elliot to avoid being extradited back to authorities in Michigan.
"You have a right to play the game so we'll play the game," said Alevizos before setting a writ of habeus corpus hearing for 1:30 p.m. March 13.
According to officials, the purpose of the hearing is for a defendant to show he should be released from unlawful detention for lack of evidence or sufficient proof.
The man presumed to be Elliot went before the judge after the Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a warrant for his return at the request of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
The convicted killer has said he is innocent of the slayings he was convicted of in 1994 since his Feb. 3 capture outside LaPorte.
He again claimed he was not guilty of the murders following Friday's hearing. When asked if how he felt about the prospects of going back to Michigan, the man wearing an orange jail uniform said "not too good."
He also said "yes, definitely" when asked seconds later if he would fight the murder convictions before disappearing behind the doors of an elevator just outside the courtroom doors en route back to the county jail to await the outcome of next month's hearing.
His public defender, Craig Braje, of Michigan City, told the court that no current fingerprints of his client match those of Michael Elliot taken after the murders in Michigan were turned over to help verify the defendant's identity.
Nobody, though, openly disputed that he was Michael Elliot.
"We're requiring the state to prove their case for extradition," said Braje.
When asked if Elliot was trying to buy time to somehow fight his murder convictions, Braje said, "You'll have to ask him that. I don't know of any strategy."
Chris Fronk, LaPorte County deputy prosecutor, said he already had all of the evidence required to prove the man is Elliot, but will obtain fresh copies of his fingerprints in case they are needed before the hearing.
Elliot escaped the Ionia Correctional Facility by wearing white clothes and diving into snow to keep from being noticed by prison guards. He then peeled open a security fence along the perimeter of the grounds.
He abducted a woman and stole her car. A few hours later, they wound up in Middlebury where she escaped.
Elliot stole another car and wound up in LaPorte where he drove off in another vehicle, but the owner saw the thief driving away and called police.
Deputy Slawek Czupryna happened to be nearby, triggering a 10- to 15-minute chase that ended about two miles northeast of LaPorte.
LaPorte County Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer said the man will continue to be held alone in a segregation unit on the main floor until the hearing.
He is let out of his cell daily for one hour of recreation but at no time is he allowed to be with any other inmates. He has not caused any trouble or even attempted a second escape.
Mollenhauer said a van belonging to the Michigan Department of Correction made the trip to LaPorte expecting to take the man back into custody, but returned after informed he was fighting extradition.