PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — A prison worker charged with helping two convicted murderers escape from a maximum-security facility had discussed with them a murder-for-hire plot involving her husband, a District Attorney confirmed on June 17.
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said at a news conference that Joyce Mitchell had talked to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat about the possibility of them killing her husband, Lyle.
Both Joyce Mitchell and Lyle Mitchell work at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, near the Canadian border. Sweat and Matt escaped from the 170-year-old prison on June 6.
Lyle Mitchell arrived with his attorney late in the morning of June 17 at the State Police barracks in Malone to talk to them, the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh reported.
Investigators have no information that Lyle Mitchell knew about the escape plan or assisted in it, Wylie said.
Meanwhile, State Police expanded the search for the killers beyond a 16-square-mile area of woods, fields and swamps where the manhunt has been most intense.
Police stepped up roving patrols and were checking the hundreds, if not thousands, of seasonal homes and hunting camps in the region.
Officials said the number of law enforcement officers involved in the search had been reduced from more than 800 earlier in the week to more than 600 Wednesday. In Dannemora, the heavy law enforcement presence prevalent for more than a week all but disappeared by Tuesday, and roadblocks surrounding the town were gone.
State Police said that they have “no hard evidence” that Sweat and Matt were able to leave the area. But they cautioned that the lack of evidence doesn’t mean the escapees are somewhere near the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Joyce Mitchell is charged with helping the killers flee by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She was visited in jail June 16 by her husband.
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro described her as “composed” during the visit.
Prosecutors say Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.
She was charged last week with supplying contraband, including a punch and a screwdriver, to the two inmates. She has pleaded not guilty and has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines.
Authorities say the convicts used power tools to cut through the backs of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall and then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole. Wylie says they apparently used tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night’s work.
By Mary Esch. AP writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report