Female prison worker back to court for charges in New York escape

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2015 12:00 PM

By Pete DeMola

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Reuters) - The female prison worker accused of smuggling tools to two inmates who recently staged a daring escape from an upstate New York facility will be arraigned on criminal charges next week, her lawyer said on Friday.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, who worked as a training supervisor at Clinton Correctional Facility, will be arraigned at the Plattsburgh County Court on July 28, said her attorney Steve Johnston. She is accused of supplying hacksaw blades and other tools to David Sweat, 36, and Richard Matt, 49, who busted out of the maximum security prison in Dannemora on June 6.

The convicted killers broke through steel walls, slipped through a steam pipe and emerged through a manhole outside the prison. A three-week manhunt ended with Matt shot dead by authorities and Sweat shot, wounded and captured.

Johnston declined to comment on the strategy behind Mitchell's decision to accept charges filed in Superior Court Information, an alternative to the typical process in which a prosecutor presents a case to a secret grand jury that can call witnesses to testify before deciding on criminal charges.

Legal experts say the move indicates the defense is trying to cooperate with the prosecution, usually in exchange for a reduced charge.

Mitchell last month entered an initial plea of not guilty to promotion of prison contraband, a felony, and criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor.

She remains jailed. Her lawyer said she is feeling depressed.

“I think she’s pretty anxious about the process," Johnston said. "She is getting by.”

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell knew she was breaking the law when she gave Matt hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver “on or about” May 1. She believed it was

“probable” she was giving them the means to escape, said the prosecutor. 

Wylie, who has said Sweat would be charged with felony escape, declined to discuss when or if Sweat would appear in court. 

Sweat is being held at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, a maximum security facility.

Wylie declined to discuss the next court date for a second Clinton employee charged in connection with the escape, Correction Officer Gene Palmer, saying "these matters are pending grand jury presentation.”

At least a dozen Clinton personnel have been placed on administrative leave, including the prison's superintendent, Steven Racette, who will retire on July 31. 

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Lambert)