Prison employee accused of helping 2 killers escape in court

Published July 28, 2015 5:30AM (EDT)

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — A New York prison worker accused of smuggling hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat to two killers who later broke out and spent more than two weeks on the run will face charges in court.

Joyce Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at Clinton Correctional Facility, was jailed shortly after the elaborately staged June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat. Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26, about 30 miles west of the northern New York prison. Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later and sent to another prison.

Mitchell is accused of providing hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Matt. Authorities say she became close to the pair, agreed to be their getaway driver and even discussed killing her husband. But she backed out at the last moment, forcing Matt and Sweat flee on foot after they emerged from a manhole near the maximum-security prison.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said the 51-year-old northern New York resident will be arraigned Tuesday morning in county court on charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband and fourth-degree criminal facilitating. Wylie said she is expected to waive her right to a grand jury hearing.

Her lawyer, Stephen Johnston, has said he hoped for a plea agreement.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty after her arrest. She was suspended without pay from her job when she was arrested June 12.

Authorities said she smuggled hacksaw blades and other tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat she placed in a refrigerator in the tailor shop. Corrections officer Gene Palmer then took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their meals.

Authorities do not believe Palmer knew of the escape plan. He was released on bail after being arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband.

Investigators do not think knowledge of the plot went beyond Matt, Sweat and Mitchell.

Authorities say Matt and Sweat cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to tunnels, broke through a brick wall, cut into and out of a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away.

By Michael Hill

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