New York Prison Worker Charged with Helping Murderers Escape

The Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. Law enforcement continue their search for two prisoners who escaped the maximum security section of the prison nearly a week ago. (Photo: Eric Thayer, Getty Images)
The Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. Law enforcement continue their search for two prisoners who escaped the maximum security section of the prison nearly a week ago.
(Photo: Eric Thayer, Getty Images)

A New York prison supervisor was arrested Friday and charged with helping two murderers escape a maximum-security facility a week ago, the state police announced.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, of Dickinson Center, N.Y., is accused of “providing material assistance” to Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who used power tools last weekend to cut their way out of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, not far from the Canadian border.

“This is one large piece of the puzzle in our quest to find these two escaped murderers,” State Police Maj. Charles Guess said at an evening news conference.

Mitchell was charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, a felony, and criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor. She was to be arraigned in Plattsburgh and then sent to the Clinton County Jail.

If convicted of the felony, she could face a maximum of 7 years in prison, while the misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to a year in jail.

The New York penal code distinguishes between a variety of banned items subject to misdemeanor charges and “dangerous contraband” — anything that could be used to help a prisoner escape, cause serious injury or death or pose a threat to prison security.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie said that the investigation was continuing, and that “potentially other charges” could be filed. Mitchell’s husband is also under scrutiny.

Mitchell, who had trained inmates in the tailor shop since 2008, has admitted helping the inmates escape, Wylie said earlier Friday. He denied reports that she had provided the power tools that Matt and Sweat used, describing the items only as “contraband.”

Officials also have said she had agreed to drive the getaway car but ultimately backed out and never showed up.

Besides being charged Friday, she was suspended without pay from her $57,700-a-year job, the state prison system said.

The news came as the massive search, which involves more than 800 law enforcement officers, shifted back to a heavily wooded area near the prison after residents reported seeing one inmate scale a rock wall in town.

But at the Friday evening briefing, Guess said that there had been no confirmed sightings of either convict since the search began and that there was “no concrete evidence” they had left the area near the Adirondack Mountains prison, known as “Little Siberia.”

He directed a message to Matt and Sweat: “We’re coming after you, and we will not stop until you are caught.”

For the previous two days, the search had focused on woods near the town ofCadyville, N.Y., about 5 miles from Dannemora, but search teams pulled back and refocused on the Dannemora area.

Authorities cautioned residents living a few miles east of the prison to remain in their homes.

The shift underscored the frustrating nature of the search, now in its seventh day, for Matt and Sweat, who sawed through metal cell walls and into a steam pipe before fleeing out a manhole.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for kidnapping, dismembering and killing his former boss in 1997. Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy.

Wylie said that Mitchell had been reluctant at first to discuss her relationship with the pair but has since been “very cooperative.”

He said said Mitchell “provided some form of equipment or tools” to the two men but “did not bring power tools into the facility based on our investigation.” He did not say where the men got the sophisticated tools used in the escape.

CNN, quoting two unidentified law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation, reported that Mitchell gave the inmates hacksaw blades. She also gave Matt two pairs of eyeglasses with lights attached, as well as drill bits, according to one of the sources.

However, a State Police document obtained by the Albany Times Union lists Mitchell’s role as “prison employee, admitted to providing power tools.” The same document, prepared by the agency’s Special Investigations Unit, also says that Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, “may have assisted with the escape,” the newspaper reports.

ABC News says state corrections officials investigated within the past year whether Mitchell had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with one of the two men who later escaped.

The inquiry concluded that there was not enough evidence to take any action against the employee, two sources briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

For several hours Friday afternoon, low-flying choppers, backed by some 800 officers on the ground and in all-terrain vehicles, descended on an area around Cadyville, which is about 5 miles southeast of Dannemora.

Squads of officers in body armor combed the swampy woods near where bloodhounds picked up a scent of the fleeing inmates.

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SOURCE: Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter

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