New York prison break: 9 days later, convicted killers still out there

Posted at 11:05 AM, Jun 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-15 11:05:24-04

(CNN) — Nine days and hundreds of tips later, the convicted killers are still out there.

Despite the efforts of 800 law enforcement officials, popping open trucks, peering into cars and scouring heavily wooded areas, authorities are no closer to capturing Richard Matt and David Sweat.

“We don’t know if they are still in the immediate area or if they are in Mexico by now,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

With every passing day since they escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, hopes of capturing them fade.

But the leads keep piling up, more than 870 of them so far, according to New York State Police.

They involve a mishmash of far-flung places: Vermont, Mexico, even a few miles from maximum-security facility in Dannemora, which they escaped from on June 6.

With every credible tip comes a switch in direction.

“We had a lead that they were headed to the state of Vermont and … I called the governor of Vermont and we worked out a cooperative agreement with Vermont,” Cuomo said.

“We then received information that they may be just a few miles from the prison, because there was a house that was broken into and it was suspect, so we followed up on that. Yesterday, we had over 800 people searching quadrants in an area where we had a tip that they might be.”

They’re on the run; she’s in jail

As the search for the two convicts drags on, the woman who allegedly helped them appeared in court Monday, but the hearing offered no answers.

The attorney for prison tailor Joyce Mitchell waived her preliminary hearing after a more than two-hour delay that was needed after her first court-appointed attorney had to drop out because of a conflict with another case.

Mitchell, who appeared in court wearing a striped black-and-white prison jumpsuit with her hands shackled to her waist, didn’t say anything during the brief hearing.

She has been in jail since last week, accused of helping the pair break out of their cells, and will remain there unless she posts a $220,000 bond or $110,000 in cash.

Matt and Sweat have been on the run since they were discovered missing from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Prison officials noticed they were nowhere to be found during a 5:30 a.m. bed check.

While making their escape, they slipped through holes and cut into a steel plate and a steam pipe, then got out through a manhole and onto a street.

Officials delayed Mitchell’s planned court hearing for about an hour Monday morning after she had to change attorneys. Her first attorney had a conflict with a previous case. The delay was needed to give her time to meet with her new court-appointed attorney, Stephen Johnston.

She allegedly supplied the tools

Mitchell supplied them with various tools, including hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit, according to court records.

But that was not all, said Andrew Wylie, the Clinton County district attorney.

After their escape, the two convicts planned to drive seven hours under the cover of darkness to a predetermined location, together with Mitchell, he said.

Mitchell told investigators she was supposed to pick them up but got cold feet, Wylie said. The plan was to run off with the men after picking them up near a manhole where they’d emerge from a network of tunnels, according to Wylie.

“They were going to meet down by the power plant, drive — I’m not going to say into the sunset, because it was after midnight and it was dark out — but they were going to drive, potentially to an area that was about seven hours away,” he said.

Unknown destination

Mitchell told authorities that the pair picked a destination, but they did not give her any specifics.

“That was the information that she was told by Matt and Sweat — that it was about seven hours away,” Wylie said.

After her change of heart, she began cooperating with police, authorities said.

“She did indicate one of the reasons why she didn’t show up was because she did love her husband and she didn’t want to do this to him,” Wylie said.

But the prisoners may have been manipulating Mitchell from as far back as 2013, when the trio met, he said.

Mitchell has told investigators that Matt made her feel “special,” a source familiar with the investigation said.

State Department of Corrections officials had received a complaint about the relationship between Mitchell and one of the two escapees. The department didn’t find enough evidence to support the complaint, but that does not mean there was no relationship, Wylie said.

The governor said the state will have “zero tolerance” for any prison employee involvement.

“To the extent any state employee was involved in facilitating the escape, that is a crime in and of itself, and that will be fully prosecuted as a crime in and of itself,” Cuomo said.

Classes resume

More than 800 state, local and federal law enforcement officers are searching for the escapees, New York State Police said.

The manhunt for the convicts has expanded in Plattsburgh, in upstate New York, where authorities have shut a portion of State Route 374.

Tracking dogs picked up their scent last week at a gas station in the town, where authorities believe they were rummaging through trash at a sandwich shop. But it’s unclear when they were there.

The local Saranac Central School District canceled classes last week as the search intensified. Classes resume Monday, but with enhanced police presence on campuses during school hours, New York State Police said. It said there will be no outdoor activities.

Sweat was serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for the murder of a Broome County sheriff’s deputy in 2002. Matt was sentenced to 25 years to life for the kidnapping and murder of a man in 1997.

Mitchell may not face as much time, but she’s looking at eight years behind bars if she is convicted.

She pleaded not guilty Friday night to a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation.