US manhunt ends after fugitive shot and captured

New York state trooper hailed as a hero for capturing convicted murderer after 23 days

One of America’s most dramatic manhunts ended on Sunday after the remaining fugitive from the June 6th prison break at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York was shot and captured alive.

David Sweat (35), a convicted murderer, was shot by New York state police Sgt Jay Cook on a road near the town of Constable, just 1½ miles from the Canadian border.

He was apprehended 16 miles from where fellow fugitive Richard Matt (49) was shot three times in the head and killed on Friday.

Sgt Cook was driving alone on a patrol near Constable at 3.20pm on Sunday when he spotted a suspicious figure walking along the road.

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When he pulled up alongside Sweat, he called out to the man and Sweat ran off through a field. Cook opened fire with his handgun before an unarmed Sweat could make it into trees, hitting the convicted felon twice in the torso.

“At some point, running across a field, he realised that Sweat was going to make it to a tree line, and possibly could have disappeared, and he fired two shots,” said New York State Police superintendent Joseph D’Amico.

Photographs broadcast on the news channel CNN showed a bloodied and shirtless Sweat with his arms behind his back in handcuffs and leg in chains, seated on the ground.

Critical

The injured Sweat was taken to Alice Hyde Medical Centre in the nearby town of Malone and later to a hospital in Albany, where his condition was described as critical.

"The nightmare is finally over," New York governor Andrew Cuomo said of the 23-day manhunt that led hundreds of law enforcement agents to swarm the area. "It has been a long, long time."

Hero

Mr Cuomo hailed Mr Cook as “a hero”.

“He was alone when this happened,” said the New York governor. “He knew the area very well. It was a very courageous act.”

Sweat was caught about 40 miles west of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora where he and Matt escaped using hacksaws and power tools, allegedly with assistance from Joyce Mitchell, the training supervisor in the prison tailoring department.

Mitchell (51) was charged the following week with supplying hacksaw blades, chisels and screwdriver bits to the escapees after Matt reportedly convinced her to help them with their escape. She was supposed to have driven a getaway car but backed out on that role.

Police were able to trace the convicts after a discarded pepper shaker bearing Sweat's DNA was found by investigators over the weekend at a camp in the woods. Mr D'Amico said that the men perhaps used the pepper to hide their scent from pursuing sniffer dogs, a technique used in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke.

“We did have difficulty tracking, so it was fairy effective in that respect,” said Mr D’Amico.

"If you were writing a movie plot, they would say that this was overdone," said Mr Cuomo, who previously likened the prison break, the first from the Dannemora jail in more than 100 years, to the dramatised escape in another film, The Shawshank Redemption.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent