Accused accomplice in New York prison break appears in court

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2015 10:41 AM

By Pete DeMola

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Reuters) - A female prison employee accused of helping two convicted killers stage a brazen escape appeared in court in upstate New York on Monday, under heavy protection and clad in apparent body armor and prison stripes.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, is charged with providing chisels and hacksaws to Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

The pair remained at large for a 10th day as more than 800 law enforcement officers combed dense woodlands near the prison, about 20 miles (32 km) south of the Canadian border.

The intense manhunt is costing about $1 million per day, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told reporters.

Sweat, 35, and Matt, 48, were discovered missing from their adjoining cells at 5:30 a.m. on June 6.

Their elaborate escape involved cutting through a steel wall and slithering through a steam pipe before emerging from a manhole on the street outside the prison's walls.

Mitchell, who is accused of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation, appeared in Plattsburgh City Court, where a new attorney, Stephen Johnston, took over her case.

Her previous attorney, Keith Bruno, resigned, citing a conflict.

Mitchell, wearing a black-and-white prison uniform and what appeared to be body armor, was shackled at her ankles and waist.

Appearing downcast, she said "yes" in a soft voice when Judge Mark Rogers asked if she understood the proceedings.

Her case was moved to the Clinton County court system.

She has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, she faces up to eight years in prison.

Mitchell had agreed to drive a getaway car but had second thoughts and never showed up, Wylie has said.

He said authorities do not believe Matt and Sweat had a backup plan and that they were still in the area.

Earlier on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott would conduct an investigation to determine the factors involved in the escape.

She will look at such issues as prison design, operations and security, and make recommendations to prevent future escapes, his office said.

"Capturing these killers and returning them to state custody remains our top priority," Cuomo said in a statement. "However, it's critically important to examine the circumstances that enabled these inmates to escape in the first place.

"We have zero tolerance for anyone who aided or abetted these criminals, no matter how minor their role," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)