As a large manhunt for two escaped killers stretched into its ninth day in upstate New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that “we don’t know if they are still in the immediate area or if they are in Mexico by now.”
In recent days, searchers have focused on the woods near Dannemora, where Richard Matt and David Sweat were discovered missing from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6.
Officials said the pair used power tools and were assisted by prison employee Joyce Mitchell, 51, of Dickinson Center, N.Y. Mitchell pleaded not guilty Friday after she was arrested and charged with a felony and a misdemeanor. Authorities think she smuggled hacksaw blades and other tools to the men.
A prosecutor said Sunday that the men also used tools left at the prison by contractors over at least several nights but returned them to their boxes so no one would notice they’d been gone.
The men had scouted a tunnel system under the prison to search for the best way out, and Mitchell was supposed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she felt guilty and she loved her husband, Clinton County Dist. Atty. Andrew Wylie told the Associated Press.
“Basically, when it was go time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, 'What am I doing?'" Wylie said. “Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn't greener on the other side.”
Mitchell was to appear in court Monday. Wylie has not ruled out further charges against her.
Cuomo's remarks Sunday indicated that officials were apparently no closer to finding Matt and Sweat than they were a week ago, when he announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the pair's capture — $50,000 each — but acknowledged they could already be outside the country.
“We're following up every lead to the best we can,” Cuomo said Sunday while answering a question at an unrelated news conference.
Canada is about 20 miles north of Dannemora, a village whose population of about 4,000 includes the 3,000 inmates in the prison.
At one point last week, officials broadened their search to include Vermont after saying they had received information that the men may have sought to escape there.
The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, about 11 miles east of Dannemora, reported Saturday that Mitchell had been moved from the Clinton County jail to one in another county because so many employees at the Clinton jail have family and friends involved in the search for the inmates.
“The [Clinton County] jail is just a few miles from a massive manhunt, and there [are] a lot of staff with family and friends involved, and we thought it best to have the least amount of distractions,” Clinton County Sheriff David Favro told the newspaper.
Matt, 48, had been serving 25 years to life for the 1997 killing and dismemberment of his boss.
Sweat, who turned 35 on Sunday, was serving life without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy in 2002.
Their escape was discovered about 5:30 a.m. June 6, but it is unclear how long they had been gone by the time prison guards realized that the lumps in their bunks were bundles of clothing designed to look like the sleeping men.
Investigators say the men, who had neighboring cells, cut holes out of a common wall and then carved into a steel pipe.
They followed that pipe to a manhole near the prison, emerged into a quiet residential neighborhood and vanished.
Pearce reported from Los Angeles and Susman from Dannemora.