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Manhunt after jail worker charged

Published 13/06/2015

Police emerge from a wood during the search for two escapees from Clinton Correctional Facilityin New York state. (AP)
Police emerge from a wood during the search for two escapees from Clinton Correctional Facilityin New York state. (AP)

The massive manhunt for two convicted killers has resumed on the morning after a worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison was charged with smuggling in hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to help the men escape.

More than 800 law enforcement officers have joined the search, concentrating in a rural area in the Adirondacks near the Canadian border around the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. Residents in the area reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall yesterday.

Prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, 51, was arraigned on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanour count of criminal facilitation. Her lawyer, Keith Bruno, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt and giving them the contraband, according to criminal complaints. District Attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband did not include the power tools the men used to cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe to escape through a manhole last weekend.

Wearing a green short-sleeved top and jeans, Mitchell entered the courtroom with her hands cuffed in front of her. She looked scared and did not speak. She is due back in court on Monday morning.

At a news conference after her arrest, state police Major Charles Guess said officers were getting closer with every step they take on the ground and in the investigation.

"We're coming for you, and we will not stop until you are caught," Mr Guess said in addressing the escapees.

Although searchers were contending with bad weather, so were Sweat and Matt, the major said.

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

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

An instructor in the tailor shop where the men worked, Mitchell is also suspected of agreeing to be a getaway driver but did not show up, leaving the men on foot early on Saturday morning.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of 57,697 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 the 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 had 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."

The garment shop is intended to give prisoners job skills and work habits. In general, an inmate assigned to such a job might work several hours a day there, five days a week, meaning he would have significant contact with supervisors.

Mitchell's union, Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, would not comment on the investigation of Mitchell or the current allegations.

But her daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, said this week that her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn't get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell's son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.

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