Tools smuggled in meat aided jailbreak, D. A. says
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?”
JOYCE MITCHELL hid items inside frozen hamburger, a prosecutor says.