Search continues, prison worker charged in escape

By John Kekis and David Klepper, AP

PLATTSBURGH, New York–The massive manhunt for two convicted killers resumed Saturday on the morning after a worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison was charged with smuggling in hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to help the men escape.

More than 800 law enforcement officers have joined the search, concentrating in a rural area near the Canadian border around the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. Residents in the area reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall on Friday.

Searchers had clear skies as the resumed their search Saturday, after a stormy night that saw the prison worker accused of helping the men escape appear before a judge in handcuffs. The escapes, David Sweat and Richard Matt, are still on the run eight days after cutting themselves out of the maximum-security prison with power tools.

Prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, 51, was arraigned late Friday night on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation. Her lawyer, Keith Bruno, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates Sweat and Matt and giving them the contraband, according to criminal complaints. Prosecutor Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn’t include the power tools the men used to cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

Mitchell was ordered held in jail on US$100,000 cash bail or US$200,000 bond. She was moved to a jail in another county Saturday morning at the request of the Clinton County sheriff and is due back in court Monday morning.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of US$57,697, overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. She has been suspended without pay.

Within the past year, officials looked into whether Mitchell had improper ties to the 34-year-old Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy, Wylie said. He gave no details on the nature of the suspected relationship.

The investigation didn’t turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, the prosecutor said.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt’s 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said Mitchell had befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A former slipper-factory employee who won three terms as tax collector in her town near Dannemora, Mitchell has worked at the prison for at least five years, according to a neighbor, Sharon Currier. Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, also works in industrial training there.