DANNEMORA, N.Y. (AP) — Search teams hindered by cool, rainy weather combed through woods for an 11th day trying to track down two escaped murderers on Tuesday as one official raised doubts the escapees relied solely on a now-jailed prison worker to help them get away after their breakout.
More than 800 law enforcement officers who are searching for convicts David Sweat and Richard Matt shifted their focus eastward along Route 374 leading from the village of Dannemora, home of the Clinton Correctional Facility, in far northern New York.
State police said Tuesday the manhunt will be expanded beyond where it’s been most intense, 16 square miles of woods, fields and swamps around a road where search dogs caught the scent of both men and searchers found evidence indicating they may have spent time there.
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said rain has been washing away any scent dogs might find and interfering with thermal imaging devices being used to detect body heat.
Matt and Sweat 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.
Meanwhile, the prison worker charged with helping the killers flee by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools was visited in jail Tuesday by her husband, also a prison worker.
Favro described Joyce Mitchell as “composed” during the morning visit with her husband, Lyle Mitchell.
Prosecutors say Joyce 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.
District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Monday that there was no evidence the men had a Plan B once Mitchell backed out, and no vehicles have been reported stolen in the area. That has led searchers to believe the men are still near the prison.
But Favro said Tuesday that while he has “no concrete information,” he doesn’t believe the escapees would have counted only on Mitchell for the success of their “elaborate, well-thought-out escape plan.”
“My theory — my theory only — is that she was Plan B,” he said. “I would have viewed her as baggage, almost, for them to be able to escape into freedom because she’s leaving behind a family and a husband.”
He said investigators won’t be certain until the fugitives are caught.
But Favro said, “I find it difficult to believe right from Day 1 that they would go through that — probably took some time to really map together — and they would get out on the hopes that a civilian worker that they found would assist them in actually getting away.”
Mitchell was charged Friday 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.
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 somebody came forward with information, he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.
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