Woman suspected of aiding escapees pleads not guilty to charges

A prison worker suspected of helping two killers escape brought contraband to facility, D.A. says

A prison employee was arrested and charged Friday in connection with the bold escape of two killers, who remained on the loose a week after using power tools to cut their way to freedom.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, of Dickinson Center, N.Y., was charged with promoting prison contraband in the first degree, a felony, and criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor, law enforcement officials announced at a news conference in Saranac on Friday evening.

She was arraigned in Plattsburgh, N.Y., shortly after 11 p.m. and pleaded not guilty.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., where she works.

In a live feed from the courtroom, Mitchell walked in with her hands cuffed behind her. Wearing a bright green top and jeans, she looked  exhausted, and did not speak. Her lawyer, Keith Bruno, entered the not-guilty plea on her behalf.

She was ordered held in jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond on the felony count. The judge scheduled a hearing for Monday.

The charges came after Mitchell told investigators that she had brought contraband into correctional facility, authorities said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of police continued to scour the woods, lakes, residential backyards and campgrounds of northeastern New York in search of Matt and Sweat, who were discovered missing last Saturday morning.

“We have a message for David Sweat and Richard Matt: We’re coming for you,” Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police said.

Guess said the search continued to focus on the area around the prison because there was no evidence either man had fled north to Canada or across the state line. While drenching rain and cool temperatures have made it difficult for searchers, Guess said the weather also could benefit them by wearing down Matt and Sweat.

“You’ve got to assume they’re cold, wet, tired and hungry,” he said. But he also warned that this could make the two men even more desperate.

The extent of Mitchell’s involvement with the men was not clear. Earlier, Clinton County Dist. Atty. Andrew Wylie said the prison had looked into reports in the last year that she had a close relationship with one of the men, but the investigation did not turn up enough evidence to block her from the facility or take other disciplinary action.

Mitchell, a civilian, works as a supervisor in the prison’s tailoring shop and has been employed there since 2010, according to local news reports. Her husband, Lyle, also works at the prison but has not been accused of involvement in the escape.

Since Matt and Sweat disappeared, police have received hundreds of tips, but Guess said there had been no confirmed sightings of the pair. A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to their arrest.

A Philadelphia cab driver reported he may have given the two men a ride, but police said his passengers were not the killers. Bloodhounds picked up a scent a couple of miles from the prison, suggesting the men had not gotten far. There have been reports of mysterious food wrappers, a footprint and signs of a makeshift campground in the woods.

Residents reported seeing mysterious men walking down a rain-drenched road and leaping over a backyard fence.

As for Mitchell, Wylie said that the “contraband” she smuggled into the prison could mean anything from toothpaste to saw blades. He would not elaborate, but he denied some news reports that Mitchell had brought power tools into the facility.

Matt, who kidnapped and killed a businessman in 1997, and Sweat, who killed a sheriff's deputy in 2002, have defied the odds in remaining free this long, according to prison-escape data compiled by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Of 29 inmates who escaped from New York state prisons from 2002 to 2012, none was loose for more than three days before being recaptured.

@tinasusman

 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:51 p.m.: This article has been updated with more details from Mitchell's arraignment.

8:17 p.m.: This article has been updated with the arraignment of Joyce Mitchell.

5:04 p.m.: This article has been revised throughout for additional details and for clarity. 

3:01 p.m.: This article was updated with the arrest of Joyce Mitchell.

2:36 p.m.: This article was updated with local media reports that Mitchell was expected to surrender later Friday.

This article was originally published at 8:34 a.m.

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