Jun 15, 2015 9:27 PM

Prison worker charged with aiding escapees appears in court

The Associated Press

DANNEMORA, N.Y. (AP) A woman charged with helping two murderers escape from a maximum-security prison by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools made another court appearance Monday as a manhunt in far northern New York marked its 10th day.

The local schools reopened with added police patrols and more than 800 law enforcement officers continued their search for Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border June 6. The main road leading into the community remained closed.

Prosecutors say Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who had befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.

Mitchell, 51, made her second court appearance in Plattsburgh wearing a striped prison jumpsuit and a bulletproof vest. She waived a preliminary hearing, and the case headed to a county court.

"Basically, when it was go-time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, 'What am I doing?'" Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Sunday. "Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn't greener on the other side."

Wylie said there was no evidence the men had a Plan B once Mitchell backed out, and no vehicles have been reported stolen in the area. That has led searchers to believe the men are still near the prison in Dannemora.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

Mitchell was charged Friday with also supplying a punch and a screwdriver to the two inmates. Her lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf. She has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison.

Brian Barrett, a criminal defense lawyer in Lake Placid not involved in the case, said Mitchell could face liability if Matt and Sweat commit new crimes and she's found responsible for helping them escape.

"She could have accomplice liability for that," Barrett said. "Certainly she would be civilly liable."

Authorities say the convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole. Wylie says they apparently used tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work.

Workers have welded shut three manholes, including the one from which the convicts climbed out.


Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.


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