Prison employee to appear in court as search for convicts enters 2nd week
NEW YORK — As the search for two convicts who escaped from an upstate New York prison drags onto its ninth day, the woman who allegedly helped them will appear in court Monday.
Joyce Mitchell has been sitting in jail since last week, accused of aiding Richard Matt and David Sweat break out of their maximum-security cells.
The two convicted killers have been on the run since they were discovered missing on June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
With every passing day, the leads increase as hopes of capturing them fade.
“We don’t know if they are still in the immediate area or if they are in Mexico by now,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “Enough time has transpired. But we’re following up every lead the best we can. ”
Many leads, not much success
There have been hundreds of leads since the men escaped, more than 870 of them, according to the New York State Police. And they have been steadily going up.
“The truth is, that is the nature of the business,” Cuomo said.
The leads involve a mishmash of farflung places: Vermont, Mexico, even a few miles from the prison they escaped from.
And with every credible tip comes a new direction.
“We had a lead that they were headed to the state of Vermont and … I called the governor of Vermont and we worked out a cooperative agreement with Vermont,” Cuomo said Sunday.
“We then received information that they may be just a few miles from the prison because there was a house that was broken into and it was suspect so we followed up on that. Yesterday we had over 800 people searching quadrants in an area where we had a tip that they might be.”
Supplying the tools
Prison officials noticed Matt and Sweat were missing during a 5:30 a.m. bed check at the facility.
While making their escape, they slipped through holes and cut into a steel plate and a steam pipe, then got out through the manhole and onto the street.
Mitchell supplied them with various tools, including hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit, according to court records.
But that was not all, according to Andrew Wylie, the Clinton County District Attorney.
After their escape, the two convicts planned to drive seven hours under the cover of darkness to a predetermined location, together with Mitchell, Wylie said.
Mitchell told investigators she was supposed to pick them up but got cold feet, Wylie said. The plan was to run off with the men after picking them up near a manhole where they’d emerge from a network of tunnels, according to Wylie.
“They were going to meet down by the power plant, drive — I’m not going to say into the sunset, because it was after midnight and it was dark out — but they were going to drive, potentially to an area that was about seven hours away,” Wylie said.
Mitchell told authorities that Matt and Sweat picked the destination, but they did not give her any specifics.
“That was the information that she was told by Matt and Sweat — that it was about seven hours away,” Wylie said.
After her change of heart, she began cooperating with police, authorities said.
“She did indicate one of the reasons why she didn’t show up was because she did love her husband and she didn’t want to do this to him,” Wylie said.
But the prisoners may have been manipulating Mitchell from as far back as 2013, when the trio met, he said.
Mitchell has told investigators that Matt made her feel “special,” a source familiar with the investigation said.
State Department of Corrections officials had received a complaint about the relationship between Joyce Mitchell and one of the two escapees. The department didn’t find enough evidence to support the complaint, but that does not mean there was no relationship, Wylie said.
The governor said the state will have “zero tolerance” for any prison employee involvement.
“To the extent any state employee was involved in facilitating the escape, that is a crime in and of itself and that will be fully prosecuted as a crime in and of itself,” Cuomo said.
More leads, intensified search
More than 800 state, local and federal law enforcement officers are searching for the escapees, New York State Police said.
The manhunt for the convicts has expanded in Plattsburgh, in upstate New York, where authorities have shut a portion of state Route 374.
Tracking dogs picked up their scent last week at a gas station in the town, where authorities believe they were rummaging through trash at a sandwich shop.
The local Saranac Central School District canceled classes last week as the search intensified. Classes resume Monday, but with enhanced police presence on campuses during school hours, New York State Police said in a statement. There will be no outdoor activities, it said.
Sweat was serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for the murder of a Broome County sheriff’s deputy in 2002. Matt was sentenced to 25 years to life for the kidnapping and murder of a man in 1997.
Mitchell pleaded not guilty Friday night to a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation.
If convicted, she faces up to eight years behind bars.