Who are Richard Matt and David Sweat? N.Y. prison escapees have violent history

Grotesque murders put two men behind bars before their Hollywood-like escape

Who are Richard Matt and David Sweat, the inmates who staged a daring Hollywood-like disappearing act from a New York maximum security prison?

Until last weekend, no one had escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., since it was built in the mid-19th century.

Both are convicted murderers whom officials described as dangerous. They were discovered missing early Saturday after using mysteriously acquired power tools to cut their way out of their cells. 

Officials say they could be anywhere — near the prison or even long gone from the U.S. The prison is just 20 miles south of Canada.

Richard Matt

Matt, 48, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the murder of his boss in 1997. According to trial testimony, he and an accomplice, Lee Bates, drove to the home of William Rickerson, 76, intending to steal large sums of money. When Rickerson apparently didn’t have any cash on hand, Matt beat him, then hit him with a knife sharpener and stuck the sharpener into Rickerson’s ear.

Then, Matt bound him with duct tape and shoved him into the trunk of the car. Over the next 27 hours, Bates and Matt drove from North Tonawanda, N.Y., to Ohio and back, Bates testified.

Frustrated with Rickerson for not providing information on where he kept his supposed stash of money, Matt bent his fingers until the bones cracked. Later, he snapped Rickerson’s neck with his bare hands.

Matt dismembered Rickerson's body with a hacksaw and dumped the remains in the Niagara River.

Then Matt fled to Mexico, where he killed another man outside a bar in Matamoros. Mexican authorities arrested and convicted him. He served nine years in a Mexican prison before being extradited to the U.S. in 2007. 

He went on trial for Rickerson’s death in 2008. A jury convicted him after deliberating for four hours. 

When Matt escaped, he had served six years of his sentence.

This wasn’t his first escape, according to the New York Department of Corrections. He had slipped away from authorities in 1986 while detained in the Eric County jail in New York during his trial on charges of possessing forged documents. He was apprehended within days, convicted and spent more than a year in prison.

Before and after his 1986 conviction, Matt was in and out of custody. He was convicted of attempted burglary in 1993 and sentenced to two to four years in prison. Matt violated parole after his release for both his 1993 and 1986 convictions and was sent back to prison for short periods.

Until his latest escape, Matt had been a mostly well-behaved inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility. According to the Department of Corrections, he had only one disciplinary complaint against him, for smuggling, tattooing and providing false information in September 2011.

David Sweat

Sweat, 34, was sentenced to life without parole for killing a Broome County sheriff’s deputy on July 4, 2002. The deputy, Kevin Tarsia, had caught Sweat and his cousin, Jeffrey Nabinger, moving stolen guns from one car to another.

Sweat and Nabinger shot Tarsia 15 times and ran him over with their vehicle, according to trial testimony.

Then they rifled through the deputy's car and clothes and stole his police-issued gun as he lay dying in the street. Officials said Tarsia died from two point-blank shots to his face.

Sweat and Nabinger fled and were arrested two days later.

Tarsia, a 13-year officer, was the first Broome County deputy to die in the line of duty since the department's founding in 1806.

Previously, Sweat had been convicted of attempted burglary in 1997 and served more than two years until his release on parole. He completed parole without any violations in 2001.

Sweat, too, had just one disciplinary mark on his record at the Clinton Correctional Facility, for interference and harassment.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
86°