Tools smug­gled in meat aided jail­break, D. A. says

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Chris­tine Mai- Duc chris­tine.mai-duc@latimes.com Twit­ter: @cmaiduc

The New York prison worker ac­cused of help­ing two con­victed mur­der­ers es­cape from a max­i­mum- se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tion smug­gled in tools by freez­ing them in raw ham­burger meat, pros­e­cu­tors say.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, hid hack­saw blades, drill bits and a hole punch in the meat be­fore bring­ing it into the Clin­ton Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in Dan­nemora, N. Y., Clin­ton County Dist. Atty. An­drew Wylie said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Tues­day evening.

Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, were dis­cov­ered miss­ing from the prison June 6. Of­fi­cials said they used power tools to cut through cell walls and nav­i­gated their way to free­dom through a maze of tun­nels and pipes.

Mitchell “just stuffed it into the ham­burger and snuck it in,” Wylie said of the con­tra­band. Once the il­licit meat was in­side the prison, Wylie said, Mitchell stored it in the re­frig­er­a­tor of the tai­lor shop where she worked.

Ac­cord­ing to Wylie, cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer Gene Palmer re­trieved the meat from Mitchell and de­liv­ered it to Matt and Sweat in their cells. It’s un­clear why Palmer would have made the de­liv­er­ies, which Wylie said were done un­der Matt’s di­rec­tion.

Palmer, who was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave last week, has passed poly­graph tests as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Wylie said. He has not been charged with any crime. Ac­cord­ing to Wylie, Mitchell told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she doesn’t be­lieve Palmer knew about the tools hid­den in the ground beef.

Matt and Sweat were liv­ing in an “honor block,” and their cells in­cluded tele­vi­sions, lock­ers and hot plates, which in­mates of­ten use to cook ex­tra food gleaned from the com­mis­sary or fam­ily pack­ages.

Nor­mally, any such food items brought into the prison would need to go through me­tal de­tec­tors, Wylie said. He said author­i­ties were try­ing to f ig­ure out why that didn’t hap­pen.

Typ­i­cally, Wylie said, longer- term in­mates can ap­ply to live in an honor block af­ter a pe­riod of good be­hav­ior.

Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to charges of col­lud­ing with the in­mates and bring­ing them con­tra­band. She is be­ing held in a county jail.

Po­lice say she also plot­ted with the es­capees to kill her hus­band.

Ear­lier Tues­day, Mitchell’s hus­band, Lyle, said that his wife had got­ten “in too deep” with the in­mates’ plot to break free, and that they threat­ened her when she wanted to back out.

In an in­ter­view on NBC’s “To­day” show, Lyle Mitchell, who also works at the prison, said his wife was ma­nip­u­lated by the at­ten­tion the in­mates gave her. She re­al­ized things had got­ten “out of hand” when the pair be­gan threat­en­ing to kill or hurt him, he said.

“When it came down to her hurt­ing me, that’s when she said some­thing was wrong,” Lyle Mitchell said. “She said she was in too deep; she didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Mitchell said that his wife de­nied hav­ing a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with ei­ther of the in­mates, but that she was drawn to the at­ten­tion Matt paid her and “did not be­lieve I loved her any­more.”

He said she told him the in­mates had planned to have her pick them up in the cou­ple’s Jeep. In­stead, he said, she checked her­self into a hos­pi­tal, com­plain­ing of chest pains.

As the Mitchells were leav­ing the hos­pi­tal, he said, she turned on their cell­phone, which lighted up with mes­sages from fam­ily mem­bers and in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“She said, ‘ Oh my God … Matt and Sweat es­caped,’” Lyle Mitchell re­called, adding that she looked shocked.

He said po­lice told him later that his wife had been more deeply in­volved than she was let­ting on.

Mitchell said he didn’t know what to think at this point — or whether he could stand by his wife.

“Do I still love her? Yes. Am I mad? Yes,” he told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “How can she do this? How can she do this to our kids?”

An­drew Bur­ton Getty I mages

JOYCE MITCHELL hid items in­side frozen ham­burger, a pros­e­cu­tor says.

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