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A New York prison worker arrested for helping two convicts escape, heads to court today. Joyce Mitchell, 51, pleaded not guilty in her first court appearance last week, but has since confessed to her part in the crime.
Law enforcement continue to search for David Sweat and Richard Matt, who escaped through a tunnel system underneath the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., on June 6. Police are focused on the woods close to the maximum security prison. Teams are also physically checking homes to make sure local citizens are not being held hostage by the two convicts. More than 800 members of law enforcement from various agencies are involved in the manhunt.
Both New York escapees are considered dangerous felons. Sweat, 35, was convicted for slaying a sheriff’s deputy and was serving a life sentence without parole. Matt, 48, was sentenced to 25 years to life after he was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and the hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss in 1997. Officials said they are looking into the possibility that the two may be fleeing to Mexico, because Matt fled there after he murdered his boss.
Officials said they do not believe the two had a back-up plan to the one devised with Mitchell. New York law enforcement is checking every possibility for how the two may have escaped the area, but believe they remain in Dannemora. More could be revealed as the New York prison worker, who was arrested for helping them make an escape, heads to court.
The tale of Mitchell’s involvement in the escape is a sorted tale of love, betrayal and guilt, according to District Attorney Andrew Wylie. Law enforcement believe Mitchell, a tailoring shop instructor at the facility, had a sexual encounter with Sweat. Although the alleged incident was investigated, there was not enough evidence to charge her, Wylie said. Officials believe Sweat told Matt and then Matt began grooming Mitchell to help in the escape by leading her to believe he loved her. The plan, according to Mitchell’s confession, was to kill her husband and then escape with the men to a Vermont cabin. Mitchell’s husband, Lyle Mitchell, is a maintenance worker at the prison.
Joyce Mitchell’s part in the plan was providing tools like hacksaw blades and drill bits for the escape. The men also stole power tools used by contractors in the prison, but put those back before they left to avoid detection. The two prisoners made holes in the wall with the power tools and crawled out of their cells into the tunnels and exited the facility through a manhole. Mitchell was also supposed to meet the men outside the facility at the prison power plant with a getaway car, but she backed out of that portion of the plan, officials said.
Wylie attributed her change of heart to guilt. She realized she loved her husband and the severity of what she had done, he said.
“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?'” Wylie said in an Associated Press interview. “Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.”
New York Gov. Cuomo will be calling for a formal investigation into the escape and is expected to make that announcement soon. He is expected to direct the state inspector to probe “all factors” in the case.
It is uncertain what type of sentence Mitchell will receive for her part in the incident. She is charged with helping prisoners escape, which is a felony, and a misdemeanor charge as well. Mitchell has been cooperating in the investigation, but there has not been any talk of a plea deal with the district attorney’s office. More is likely to be revealed as the arrested New York prison worker heads to court, making an appearance that will address her help in the escape.
By Melody Dareing
NBC News: New York Prison Worker Joyce Mitchell Was Investigated for Sexual Incident with Escapee
LA Times: Search for escaped New York killers goes on; governor cites little progress
New York Post: Worker ‘planned hit job’ on husband in prison break
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