New York prison employee questioned over escape of two killers

Richard W Matt and David Sweat are understood to be in Vermont

New York state officials said a civilian employee of the prison from which two convicted killers escaped over the weekend was being questioned in connection with the breakout.

The employee, Joyce Mitchell, worked in a tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

She is believed to have aided the escapees, Richard W Matt and David Sweat, and was expected to face charges soon, a person with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

Ms Mitchell allegedly "befriended the inmates and may have had some sort of role in assisting them," Supt Joseph D'Amico of the New York State Police said. He declined to go into further detail.


Supt D'Amico spoke at a news conference along with governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont and other law enforcement officials to discuss the latest developments in the continuing search for the two men.

“We have information that would suggest that Vermont was discussed as a possible location,” Mr Cuomo said, describing a collaboration between law enforcement officials from both states along the border. Clinton Correctional Facility, New York’s largest prison, is about 30km from Vermont.

The new information about their possible whereabouts emerged as investigators continued to comb Dannemora and Willsboro, a town about 40km southeast. The escape occurred sometime late Friday or early Saturday, when the two inmates cut through their cell walls and into a 2-foot pipe to emerge from a manhole onto the streets of Dannemora.

The men were serving lengthy terms for murder. Investigators say they believe Mitchell helped the men break free, but failed to follow through with the last part of the plan and did not meet them after they crawled through pipes to escape from the maximum security penitentiary.

The person with knowledge of the matter said Mitchell made statements that were sufficient to result in her being indicted in connection with the escape.

Instead of meeting Matt and Sweat with a getaway car, the person said, Mitchell sought treatment for a panic attack. The person said Mitchell “had a panic attack and obviously got cold feet and went to the hospital.”

“The DA is working it already,” the person added, referring to what was a pending case against Mitchell. The person said Mitchell’s complaints of a panic attack had prevented investigators from interviewing her extensively.

A woman who answered the phone at the office of the Clinton County district attorney, Andrew Wylie, said the office would not comment on any possible case connected to the escape. One of several puzzling questions facing investigators is how the two men got the tools they used to cut their way through the back walls of their cells and into a 2-foot steam pipe through which they crawled to freedom beneath the prison's 40-foot walls.

State officials have said that all of the heavy-duty cutting tools in the prison’s inventory - and any such tools that contractors might have been using in the course of renovations to the 170-year-old penitentiary - have been accounted for.

Investigators are examining the possibility, one of the officials said, that the men had been working with the tools at night in their cells and in the interior of the prison for some time, and were returning the tools to the prison inventory, which is supposed to be carefully monitored, each day.

So as part of the inquiry, investigators are checking on other prisoners or staff members who may have logged the tools out, according to a person who has knowledge of some aspects of the matter.

“They’re trying to figure out how these tools were taken from the inventory,” the person said, insisting on anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter.

After a day of trudging through remote, swampy terrain in far northern New York in search of the two escaped killers, investigators on Wednesday morning shifted their focus closer to the site of the pair’s breakout.

The New York State Police said law enforcement officers were searching homes in Dannemora as they retraced steps taken earlier in the manhunt.

But at the afternoon briefing, Mr Cuomo and Mr Shumlin, both Democrats, said law enforcement officers were also pursuing the possibility that the men were in Vermont.

“We have information that suggests that they thought New York was going to be hot, Vermont would be cooler in terms of law enforcement and that a camp in Vermont might be a better place to be than New York,” Mr Shumlin said.

New York Times service