The search for two escaped killers expanded from the area around their upstate New York prison Wednesday, and investigators confirmed that a woman charged with helping the pair break out had plotted with them to murder her husband.
Twelve days after Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, fled the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, officials admitted that they have no idea where they are. But in a sign that they no longer feel certain the men are nearby, they confirmed that the search, which had focused on a tight perimeter around Dannemora, had been widened.
Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police told a news conference that the search "will expand and shift to other areas."
The change includes moving officers who had been manning checkpoints to other areas and lifting those roadblocks, and reopening a road that had been closed to most traffic since June 6, when Matt and Sweat were declared missing from their side-by-side cells.
Guess, who was joined by several other law enforcement officials from the area, said 16 square miles, or more than 10,000 acres, have so far been searched. More than 1,400 leads have been received, and canine and aviation units are taking part in the search.
Clinton County Dist. Atty. Andrew Wylie said they had conducted a "massive perimeter search."
"We haven't totally exhausted that, but we need to open this up," he said.
In addition to state police and local law enforcement officers, the FBI and Border Patrol have been taking part in the search. About 800 law enforcement officers had been searching in the Dannemora area, a number that will drop to about 600 as officers who had manned checkpoints are released, Guess said.
"There is still a very strong presence in this region," Guess added, emphasizing that the shift in tactics does not represent a diminished effort to find Sweat and Matt.
So far, Joyce Mitchell, a civilian who worked in the prison, has only been charged with bringing contraband to Sweat and Matt, who both were serving time for murder. Wylie has said more charges could be filed against Mitchell, 51, and he confirmed news reports that she had discussed killing her husband, Lyle Mitchell, with the escapees.
"The information we have from Joyce Mitchell is that that occurred, that the plot had occurred," Wylie said.
Mitchell was arrested last Friday and has pleaded not guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor charge. A criminal complaint alleges she brought hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit to the men in the weeks before they fled.
She has told officials that she was supposed to pick up the men after they emerged from a manhole either late on June 5 or early June 6, and take them to a destination several hours' drive away. But Wylie said Mitchell told authorities she changed her mind at the last minute, in part because she did not want to hurt her husband.
Despite the massive search and a $50,000 reward offered for information leading to each man, there have been no confirmed sightings of the escapees.
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