New York prison break: Doubts over search, questions over employee’s role

It’s Day 11, and the search for two dangerous New York convicts has gone cold, a surprising development given the scope of the search and resources devoted to finding the murderers.

More than 800 local, state and federal law enforcement officers, including forest rangers, marshals and FBI and Border Patrol agents, are assisting in the 24-hour-a-day effort, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

They’re popping open trunks, peering into cars and scouring heavily wooded areas, while canine units continue searching for a scent that might lead police to Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped from a maximum-security facility known as “Little Siberia” in upstate New York on June 6. At least 400 homes have been given the all-clear.

Motion detectors and cameras have been placed in the woods, and an airplane able to fly at high altitude and detect movements on the ground is aiding in the search, said the New York state official who told CNN the trail had gone cold.

Authorities are also offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the escaped inmates’ arrests.

It’s not clear how much has been spent, but judging from the boots on the ground, it can’t be cheap.

Police have developed 1,000 leads, according to New York State Police, but so far the best hypotheses are that the killers are in Vermont, Mexico or perhaps still in the general vicinity.

The men could still be in the woods near the prison in Dannemora, New York — or long gone, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said.

Despite promising leads last week — including an abandoned campfire, human tracks and a bloodhound picking up a possible scent — hopes of finding Matt and Sweat anytime soon appear to be on the wane, the state official said.

Accused prison worker gets visit

Joyce Mitchell, a prison employee, sits in jail while Matt and Sweat, whose escape she is accused of assisting, remain on the run.

While solid information about the killers’ whereabouts seems to be lacking, more details are coming to light about Mitchell’s relationships with them and the escape plot, which one official says could have taken a deadly turn.

Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, visited her in prison Tuesday morning, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Authorities announced after the escape that the husband, too, was under investigation. In recent days, however, sources have told CNN that Joyce Mitchell had relationships with Matt and Sweat — and the relationship with at least one of the men was sexual — and Matt and Sweat had intended to kill Lyle Mitchell upon their escape.

Lyle Mitchell was his wife’s first visitor, and he spent an hour with her. The pair were separated by glass and spoke over a phone in a private, unmonitored conversation, Favro said. Lyle Mitchell was supportive, and his wife seemed comforted by his visit, the sheriff said.

Joyce Mitchell’s attorney, Stephen Johnston, said he did not know what the two talked about.

“All I know is that he said that he is standing by her, so that’s what he told me when I spoke to him,” the attorney told reporters.

Asked about his client’s state of mind, he said, “She is distraught, very weepy and very upset.”

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie has not commented much on the husband, other than to say he’s under investigation, but he told CNN on Tuesday that Lyle Mitchell had hired attorney Peter Dumas.

Was husband marked man?

Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailor, is accused of sneaking hacksaw blades, chisels, drill bits, a punch and other contraband into the two convicts’ hands. She has pleaded not guilty to the two charges brought against her but has been talking to investigators.

Matt and Sweat had a plan to kill Mitchell’s husband, who worked in the same tailoring block as his wife, a source with detailed knowledge of the investigation said.

It’s unclear why, when they intended to do it and how much Joyce Mitchell actually knew about that plan, but Johnston told reporters that he thought the allegation was likely bogus.

“I don’t know very much about it other than I believe it’s a specious plan, a specious argument,” he said. “The problem is I’ve been involved in this since yesterday morning and law enforcement has been interviewing her and interviewing a lot of other witnesses for many, many days.”

Investigators are looking into whether the two inmates threatened Mitchell to force her to help in the escape, the New York state official told CNN. Investigators believe Mitchell began getting cold feet about executing the plan but possibly had agreed to be the getaway driver because of threats to her and her husband, the official said.

Favro says his gut instinct tells him Mitchell wasn’t the convicts’ main getaway plan, because she “would have been baggage to them.”

“She was the backup plan, not the front plan,” he told CNN.

Relationships under scrutiny

Mitchell was having a sexual relationship with Matt, the source with detailed knowledge of the investigation said.

She’d also been investigated in the past for an inappropriate relationship with Sweat that led corrections officials to move him out of the tailor shop and keep them separated, said Wylie, the district attorney.

Mitchell told authorities that the two inmates picked a destination for their getaway, but that they did not give her any specifics.

“That was the information that she was told by Matt and Sweat — that it was about seven hours away,” Wylie said.

It’s not clear if Mitchell has shared everything she knows, the prosecutor said.

“It’s apparent that she’s trying to be as truthful as possible, but in any of these investigations, we always find out that potentially somebody continues to hold things back for one reason or another, and that may be the case here,” he said.

At this point, investigators can’t say for sure whether anybody else was involved, Wylie said.

‘She actually is quite calm’

Mitchell is now under direct, one-on-one supervision in her cell around the clock.

“Obviously, an inmate of this type of risk that’s gone through this type of stress, this type of pressure, we’re going to want to keep a close eye on,” Favro said.

So far, she’s holding up OK.

“She actually is quite calm,” Favro said. “I think she’s handling things fairly well.”

Mitchell appeared briefly in court Monday.

Wearing a black-and-white-striped prison jumpsuit and with her hands shackled to her waist, she didn’t say anything during the hearing.

Her attorney waived her preliminary hearing after a more than two-hour delay that was needed after her first court-appointed lawyer had to drop out because of a potential conflict of interest.

Mitchell has been in jail since last week and will remain there unless she posts a $220,000 bond or $110,000 in cash. If convicted, she could face as much as eight years behind bars.

The local Saranac Central School District canceled classes last week as the search intensified. Classes resumed Monday, but with an enhanced police presence on campuses during school hours, New York State Police said. It said there will be no outdoor activities.

For local residents, the uncertainty about the fugitives’ whereabouts is troubling.

“I feel so safe with law enforcement around,” said Kate Jarrard, who grew up in the area. “But being in the middle of the woods is a little bit scary at times.”

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