DA confirms murder-for-hire plot with prison escapees

Jun 17, 2015 6:02 PM by News Staff

DANNEMORA, N.Y. - A prison worker charged with helping two convicted murderers escape from a maximum-security facility had discussed with them a murder-for-hire plot involving her husband, a district attorney confirmed Wednesday.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said at a news conference that Joyce Mitchell talked to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat about the possibility of them killing her husband, Lyle.

Both Joyce Mitchell and Lyle Mitchell work at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

Her lawyer has denied the murder-for-hire claim.

"From what I can tell, she was not involved in a plan to do harm to her husband," said Mitchell's lawyer, Stephen Johnston.

Her lawyer says the Mitchells are very close. Lyle visited Joyce in jail Tuesday, and is trying to raise money to bail her out.

"She is very upset, she's very weepy and very upset," Johnston said.

State police expanded the search Wednesday for the killers beyond a 16-square-mile area of woods, fields and swamps where the manhunt has been most intense.

A law enforcement source tells CBS News wanted posters of David Sweat and Richard Matt will be distributed at border crossings into Canada and in Mexico. More than 800 officers have been on the ground, in the air and on the water in an operation that is now believed to be costing about $1 million a day.

Sweat and Matt escaped June 6 from the maximum-security prison near the Canadian border.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

Joyce Mitchell is charged with helping the killers flee by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She was visited in jail Tuesday by her husband.

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro described Joyce Mitchell as "composed" during the morning visit.

Prosecutors say Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.

Lyle Mitchell arrived with his attorney late Wednesday morning at the state police barracks in Malone to talk to them, the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh reported.

Investigators have no information that Lyle Mitchell knew about the escape plan or assisted in it, Wylie said.

Mitchell was charged last week with supplying contraband, including a punch and a screwdriver, to the two inmates. She has pleaded not guilty. She has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines.

Authorities say the convicts used power tools to cut through the backs of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall and then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole. Wylie says they apparently used tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work.

A law enforcement source told CBS News officials suspect they may have used prison employee Joyce Mitchell as "Plan B" and arranged for someone else to help them get away. Officials now believe multiple people were involved with helping the men escape.

In Broome County, where Sweat and his cousin killed a deputy in 2002, Sheriff David Harder said his office has been investigating since Sweat broke out of prison, contacting his family and associates and committing about 50 officers to the case. Sweat was "a kind of survivalist," who was caught in the woods in New York's Southern Tier five days after that killing after someone came forward with information, he said.

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