Escaped convict pleads not guilty in crime rampage

June 17, 2011 - 4:28 PM

BOSTON (AP) — An escaped convict accused of shooting a Massachusetts barbershop customer to death and wounding two police officers in a retaliatory shooting sat in a wheelchair Friday as he pleaded not guilty to murder and 15 other charges.

Tamik Kirkland, 25, was ordered held without the right to bail during his arraignment in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield.

Kirkland, who was serving time on weapons convictions, escaped from the state's minimum-security prison in Shirley on April 25. Five days later, he allegedly went into a Springfield barbershop, wounded a barber and fatally shot a customer, then a short time later, opened fire on a state trooper and Springfield police officer.

Kirkland was shot six times during the shootout with police and has been recovering in an unspecified Department of Correction facility. The extent of his injuries was unclear. His lawyer, John Ferrara, declined to comment.

Authorities say Kirkland targeted the barber because the man's son shot and wounded Kirkland's mother days earlier. The customer, Sheldon Innocent, 24, of Wilbraham, was an unintended victim. Authorities said he had no connection to Kirkland or the shooting of Kirkland's mother.

The shootings rattled residents and surprised law enforcement officials.

"This was an extraordinarily serious crime for this entire county just because of the level of violence," said Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni.

"This was violence right in the middle of the day committed by an individual who was an escapee from state prison. ... Then you have law enforcement down there who were so actively looking for him when he escaped. For it to come to the conclusion it did, with two officers getting shot, it's hard to explain how serious this was for us here in Hampden County."

The two police officers have recovered from their injuries. Mastroianni said their bulletproof vests saved them from more serious wounds.

The barber, whose name was not released, was seriously wounded.

Kirkland's escape might have been prevented if prison guards had followed procedures on checking inmates at night, a report by the state Department of Correction said.

The report, released in May, said a correctional officer was suspended and faces possible termination for not making sure he saw "living, breathing flesh" during inmate checks the night Kirkland escaped. It said an employee of a DOC vendor could face criminal prosecution for possibly giving Kirkland a cellphone that helped him in his escape. The vendor is also alleged to have had an intimate relationship with Kirkland while he was in prison.

A sergeant with the DOC is facing possible charges for allegedly making a threatening call to a hospital where Kirkland was being treated after he was shot.