Prison worker denies helping killers escape as manhunt enters eighth day
A female prison worker pleaded not guilty Friday to allegedly helping two killers escape a maximumsecurity New York state jail, as a massive police manhunt slipped into an eighth day.
More than 800 state, local and federal agents combed thick woods east of the maximum-security jail where Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, used power tools to cut their way to freedom.
Investigators have focused on the probability that Matt, who was convicted of dismembering his 76-year-old former boss, and Sweat, who shot dead a sheriff’s deputy, had inside help in pulling off last Saturday’s escape.
Joyce Mitchell, 51, who worked at a prison tailoring shop, was arrested and charged with “promoting prison contraband” and criminal facilitation.
Handcuffed and visibly nervous, Mitchell appeared in court late Friday dressed in a lime-green T-shirt and wearing black-rimmed spectacles, standing next to her lawyer in a brief arraignment.
Her lawyer entered a plea of not guilty and she was remanded into custody until Monday.
Mitchell “provided some form of equipment or tools” that allowed the murderers to escape, Clinton County district attorney Andrew Wylie earlier told CNN.
Her arrest was “one large piece of the puzzle” in the hunt for the duo, Major Charles Guess of New York State Police told a press conference.
“We have a message for David Sweat and Richard Matt. We’re coming for you and we will not stop until you are caught,” he added.
‘Dangerous and desperate’
Media reports have said Mitchell’s husband, another prison em- ployee, is also being investigated for possible involvement in the prison break.
Hacksaw blades, drill bits and two pairs of spectacles with attached lights were among the items that his wife allegedly gave the convicts, CNN quoted two unnamed law enforcement sources as saying.
Officials suggest that Mitchell was charmed by Matt and Sweat, and agreed to pick them up by car from the manhole where they emerged.
Instead, she changed her mind and checked into a hospital — reportedly suffering from a panic attack.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mitchell had also been under investigation in the last year for allegedly forming a relationship with Sweat while they worked together in the prison tailoring shop.
Police said wet weather and the rolling woodlands where the search is focused were complicating the effort — but also worked against the pair.
“If they have not escaped the area or they have not availed themselves of shelter, we’ve got to assume they’re cold, wet, tired and hungry,” Guess told reporters.
“I would advise and remind the community and the residents that that makes these individuals even more dangerous and desperate.”
Authorities “do not have any conclusive evidence that either of the inmates has left this area,” he added.
Joyce Mitchell is arraigned in City Court in Plattsburgh, New York on Friday, June 12.