Manhunt for escaped US convicts enters 8th day

2015-06-14 14:47
Joyce Mitchell is arraigned in City Court in Plattsburgh, NY. Mitchell is accused of helping two convicted killers escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. (Mike Groll, AP)

Joyce Mitchell is arraigned in City Court in Plattsburgh, NY. Mitchell is accused of helping two convicted killers escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. (Mike Groll, AP)

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Plattsburgh - The massive manhunt for two convicted killers resumed on Saturday on the morning after a worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison was charged with smuggling in hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to help the men escape.

More than 800 law enforcement officers have joined the search, concentrating in a rural area near the Canadian border around the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. Residents in the area reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall on Friday.

Searchers had clear skies as the resumed their search on Saturday, after a stormy night that saw the prison worker accused of helping the men escape appear before a judge in handcuffs. The escapes, David Sweat and Richard Matt, are still on the run eight days after cutting themselves out of the maximum-security prison with power tools.

Suspected relationship

Prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, aged 51, was arraigned late on Friday night on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation. Her lawyer, Keith Bruno, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates Sweat and Matt and giving them the contraband, according to criminal complaints. Prosecutor Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn't include the power tools the men used to cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

Mitchell was ordered held in jail on $100 000 cash bail or $200 000 bond. She was moved to a jail in another county on Saturday morning at the request of the Clinton County sheriff and is due back in court on Monday morning.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of $57 697, overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. She has been suspended without pay.

Within the past year, officials looked into whether Mitchell had improper ties to the 34-year-old Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff's deputy, Wylie said. He gave no details on the nature of the suspected relationship.

The investigation didn't turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, the prosecutor said.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt's 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said Mitchell had befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorised to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

'She's a good, good person'

A former slipper-factory employee who won three terms as tax collector in her town near Dannemora, Mitchell has worked at the prison for at least five years, according to a neighbour, Sharon Currier. Mitchell's husband, Lyle, also works in industrial training there.

"She's a good, good person," Currier said. "She's not somebody who's off the wall."

Mitchell's daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, said this week that her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn't get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell's son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.

As the hunt for the escapees continued, local residents were vigilant.

Kevin Farrington stood close watch over his 2-year-old son Dylan as the toddler jumped at the chance to go outside for the first time since the prison break. A contingent of about 40 armed officers scanning the field across the highway set the family at ease for the first time all week in an area where nobody is accustomed to locking their doors, day or night.

"When something like this happens, you think about a couple of guys who are pretty bad actors capable of anything," Farrington, a city engineer in nearby Plattsburgh, said. "You know they're desperate and probably not going to want to be taken alive. They'll probably go to any lengths."

Farrington said he keeps a loaded gun inside his home, just in case.

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