Governor: 2 inmates must have taken days to pull off escape

2015-06-08 09:05
Law enforcement officers sweep through Smith Street in Dannemora, during a search for escaped prisoners. (Gabe Dickens, AP)

Law enforcement officers sweep through Smith Street in Dannemora, during a search for escaped prisoners. (Gabe Dickens, AP)

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Dannemora - Two murderers who used power tools to escape from a New York state prison must have taken days to cut through steel walls and pipes and break through the bricks, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday as a $100 000 reward was posted for information leading to their capture.

Authorities were investigating how the inmates obtained the power tools they used in the breakout over the weekend.

"It was sophisticated plan," Cuomo said. "It took a period of time, no doubt, to execute."

To escape, the inmates had to cut into a steam pipe then shimmy "some distance," Cuomo said, before cutting themselves out again. Their alleged path conjured images of "The Shawshank Redemption," the 1994 film adaptation of a Stephen King story about an inmate's carefully planned prison escape.

The two escapees were both convicted killers.

David Sweat, aged 34, was serving a sentence of life without parole for the 2002 killing of a sheriff's deputy. Richard Matt, aged 48, had been sentenced to 25 years to life for kidnapping, killing and dismembering his former boss in 1997.

"These are killers. They are murderers," the governor said. "There's never been a question about the crimes they committed. They are now on the loose, and our first order of business is apprehending them."

Officials gave no details on how the men managed to avoid detection while they were cutting their way out. Cuomo said someone must have heard at least some of the noise.

"They had to be heard," Cuomo told ABC's "Good Morning America."

After the search for the two prisoners is over, authorities will conduct a full review of the escape, Cuomo said later Sunday.

"We'll go through the exact details of what they did and how they did it to ensure this never happens again," he said.

Authorities set up roadblocks and brought in bloodhounds and helicopters. Hundreds of law enforcement officers fanned out across the area around the prison, about 30km south of the Canadian border, following up on dozens of tips.

But authorities acknowledged they did not have a good idea of where the convicts could be. They may have crossed the border into Canada or headed to another state, Cuomo said.

"This is a crisis situation for the state," he said. "These are dangerous men capable of committing grave crimes again."

Prison officials found the inmates' beds inside the 150-year-old Clinton Correctional Facility stuffed with clothes on Saturday morning in an apparent attempt to fool guards making their rounds. On a cut steam pipe, the prisoners left a taunting note containing a crude Asian caricature and the words, "Have a nice day."

Officials said the inmates cut through the steel wall at the back of their cell, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe, and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.

It was the first escape from the maximum-security portion of the prison, which was built in 1865.

The men may have had assistance outside the prison, perhaps meeting up with someone who helped them leave the area, investigators said.

Cuomo said investigators were confident the men obtained the tools inside the prison. Acting Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci said an inventory of prison tools had so far shown none missing and he was in contact with contractors who were doing or had done work at the prison.

Steven Tarsia, brother of slain sheriff's Deputy Kevin Tarsia, said that finding out his brother's killer had escaped "turns your world upside-down all over again."

He said that just the other day, he found he couldn't remember the names of the men responsible for his brother's death.

"All of a sudden, I remember them again," he said.

Prison escapes "is a relatively rare event," said Martin Horn, former New York City corrections commissioner who is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "That tells you that a great deal of planning is involved because it's not an easy thing to accomplish."

The escape had law enforcement swarming around the town of Dannemora in the Adirondacks.

Beth Nichols, an employee of a Dunkin' Donuts across the street from the prison and a few hundred meters from the manhole where authorities said the men emerged, said their escape was "nerve-wracking."

She said one employee had a panic attack on Saturday after being told about the prisoner breakout.

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