Saturday 1 October 2016

Worker at maximum security prison accused of supplying escaped murderers with hacksaw blades, chisels, screwdriver

Press Association

Published 13/06/2015 | 07:20

Joyce Mitchell, suspected of having smuggled contraband into the prison where convicts Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped last weekend, is arraigned in City Court in Plattsburgh, New York June 12, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Groll/Pool
Joyce Mitchell, suspected of having smuggled contraband into the prison where convicts Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped last weekend, is arraigned in City Court in Plattsburgh, New York June 12, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Groll/Pool
The tattoos of escaped prisoners Richard Matt (top) and David Sweat are seen in a combination of undated photos released by the New York State Police in Ray Brook, New York. REUTERS/New York State Police/handout via Reuters

A worker at a maximum security prison in New York state has been charged with helping two killers escape.

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Tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and giving them hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.

Mitchell was arraigned in Plattsburgh on charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation

Court-appointed defence lawyer Keith Bruno entered a not guilty plea and Mitchell was ordered jailed on 100,000 dollars (£64,000) cash bail

The 51-year-old had her hands cuffed in front of her and did not speak during the hearing.

District attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier that the contraband did not include power tools used by the men as they cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

The tattoos of escaped prisoners Richard Matt (top) and David Sweat are seen in a combination of undated photos released by the New York State Police in Ray Brook, New York. REUTERS/New York State Police/handout via Reuters
The tattoos of escaped prisoners Richard Matt (top) and David Sweat are seen in a combination of undated photos released by the New York State Police in Ray Brook, New York. REUTERS/New York State Police/handout via Reuters

More than 800 law enforcement officers are still searching for the escapees, concentrating in a rural area around the prison in the Adirondacks near the Canadian border. Earlier residents reported seeing two men jumping over a stone wall outside Dannemora.

"We're coming for you, and we will not stop until you are caught," state police Major Charles Guess said in addressing the escapees as he headed a news conference after Mitchell's arrest.

Maj Guess said officers were getting closer with every step they take on the ground and in the investigation, despite contending with bad weather.

"They've got to be cold, wet, tired and hungry" if they haven't escaped the area or found shelter, Mr Guess said.

Law enforcement officers walk in water while searching a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers walk in water while searching a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a field near Willsboro, New York, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a farm near Willsboro, New York, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a building on a farm near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a building on a farm near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers search a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers walk in water while searching a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers look out over a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Law enforcement officers look out over a field near Willsboro, New York June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Mitchell's family has said she would not have helped the convicts break out.

She is also suspected of agreeing to be a getaway driver but did not show up, leaving the men on foot.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of 57,700 dollars (£37,000), overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. Amid the criminal case, she was suspended without pay.

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

The investigation did not turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, the district attorney said.

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

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said Mitchell befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up.

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," Ms Currier said. "She's not somebody who's off the wall."

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