New York manhunt for prison escapee heats up after accomplice killed

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2015 1:20 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A day after killing the first of two convicted murderers who escaped from a maximum security prison in New York, hundreds of law enforcement officers were scouring an area near the Canadian border on Saturday in hopes of apprehending his accomplice.

David Sweat, a 35-year-old imprisoned for killing a sheriff's deputy, remained at large three weeks after taking flight from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. He is believed to hiding in the woods near Malone, New York, where his accomplice was gunned down on Friday.

After Richard Matt was fatally shot by U.S. Border Patrol officers, a tight security perimeter was set up in the area where Sweat was believed to be holed up.

New York State Police declined to provide additional information about the search and would not say why they thought Sweat was in the area.

Malone is 27 miles (43 km) northwest of the Clinton prison, where the convicts were discovered missing on June 6.

Police tracked Matt to the Malone area, just south of the Canadian border, when two burglaries were reported this week at backwoods cabins. DNA evidence on items found at the sites indicated Matt's presence.

After authorities were alerted to a third break-in near Malone on Friday, officers spotted and confronted Matt outside the cabin, police said.

Border Patrol agents warned Matt to drop the shotgun he was holding, and shot and killed him when he failed to comply, police said. The escapee fired no shots of his own.

In making their escape, Matt and Sweat cut through the walls of their adjoining cells and sneaked along the catwalk on the other side to a steam pipe, slithered through the pipe and popped out of a manhole outside the prison walls.

Two prison workers have been charged with aiding them. Gene Palmer, 57, a corrections officer for 27 years, was suspended without pay from his job, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said.

He is accused of bringing hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit to the inmates, hidden in frozen hamburger meat supplied by Joyce Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop.

Mitchell, who was also charged in connection with the escape, told investigators that the inmates expected her to pick them up outside the prison walls and drive a getaway car.

When she instead checked into a local hospital complaining of panic attacks, the escapees were apparently forced to take off on foot through the rugged, mountainous terrain in the northwest corner of the state. For Matt, the escape route would end near Malone.

Palmer also let the men slip behind their cell walls onto a prison catwalk to hide contraband and alter electrical wiring so they could cook in their cells, according to court documents.

Matt was convicted in the 1997 torture, murder and dismemberment of his boss in Tonawanda, New York.

Sweat was convicted in the shooting death of a Broome County Sheriff's deputy on July 4, 2002.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Digby Lidstone)