A Winooski man, who officials say fired up to five shots at a man outside the University Mall in South Burlington, has pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court to a charge of attempted first degree murder.

Hieheem “Kieemi” Kirkland, 29, also denied a charge of possession of a 9-mm handgun during the shooting on Nov. 1 after having been convicted of a violent crime, Vermont Superior Court records show.

Kirkland used his girlfriend’s social media account to lure the victim, Rasean Marajah, to the mall, South Burlington Police said. Kirkland made it appear like his girlfriend wanted to connect with the victim for a drug deal, police said.

It turned out his girlfriend was really in residential treatment in Massachusetts and Kirkland had driven to the mall in her red Toyota Corolla, Det. Kevin Grealis said in court papers. When Marajah arrived on the northwest side of the Dorset Street mall about 12:55 p.m. he said he spotted the car, but Kirkland came out from the bushes and began firing at him from behind, officials said.

Marajah reported he jumped into a retention pond for a nearby hotel to avoid being wounded, officials said. A hotel customer, who was holding a child, maneuvered to avoid the situation, a prosecutor wrote.

Marajah estimated five shots were fired, police said.

Police recovered at least three shell casings at the scene. They also retrieved one slug from a tree.

Another witness reported “seeing a Black man shooting a handgun coming out of the tree line (therefore, lying in wait for the victim), while wearing a face

mask and being dressed all in black,” Deputy State’s Attorney Franklin L. Paulino said in court papers.

The shooting happened near the road that connects the mall with both the Homewood Suites and the Comfort Inn and Suites. The defendant was quickly identified because of past police involvements, investigators said.

Kirkland fled the scene in his girlfriend’s red Toyota, police said. Minutes later he abandoned the car with the 9-mm handgun and ammo inside at the Burlington International Airport, officials said.

South Burlington police chief Shawn P. Burke, who warned the public that Kirkland was believed to be armed and dangerous, said city officers worked diligently for 10 days and eventually got a lead that the fugitive was at an apartment on Baird Street off Pine Street in Burlington’s south end. They arrested him on Wednesday, Nov. 10, and lodged him late that afternoon at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town.

South Burlington Police obtained a search warrant Nov. 1 for the apartment Kirkland and his girlfriend share in Winooski. That night, with assistance from Winooski Police, the officers found a box of 9-mm Lugar ammunition with five rounds missing, a black vest and a cellphone, Grealis said.

Kirkland is a danger

During the arraignment, Judge A. Gregory Rainville agreed with the prosecution’s request that Kirkland be held without bail as a danger to the community. Kirkland’s criminal record includes two felony convictions, including an assault and robbery on July 29, 2016, records show. He has been prohibited from possessing any kind of firearm for more than five years.

Kirkland has six arrests for crimes involving assault, with five convictions, and 17 misdemeanor arrests with 10 convictions, police said.

“The defendant’s release poses a substantial threat of physical violence to the victim and the public, and it is unlikely that the defendant will follow the court’s conditions of release,” Paulino said in his three-page motion.

If convicted on the attempted murder charge, Kirkland faces a minimum sentence of 35 years and a maximum of life in prison. The firearm charge carries a term of up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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