By Pete DeMola
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Reuters) - Legal bills for love-struck prison worker Joyce Mitchell may be paid by taxpayers, including residents living near the upstate New York prison who were terrified by a three-week manhunt for the convicted killers she helped escape, authorities said on Wednesday.
Mitchell, 51, who was a prison tailor shop supervisor at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, and her husband both held prison jobs that paid $57,697 a year. Still, her attorney is court appointed and local authorities are investigating whether taxpayers must pay her legal bills, said Clinton County legislator Jim Langley Jr.
A manhunt estimated to cost more than $20 million ended in late June with escapees Richard Matt, 49, shot and killed and David Sweat, 35, shot and captured.
Details of the mounting costs of the June 6 escape unfolded as salacious details surfaced about the three-way relationship between Mitchell and the two men, who cut through the back of their cells, slithered through a steam pipe and emerged through a manhole outside the maximum security prison near the Canadian border.
Mitchell, who had been previously investigated after a co-worker complained she had an inappropriate relationship with Sweat, said she never had a sexual relationship with Sweat but did send him naked pictures of herself, through Matt, court documents said.
PRISON SHOP SEX
She told investigators that Matt surprised her in April 2015 by kissing her in the tailor shop, where she later gave him oral sex and fondled him when he wore a coat with a hole cut in the pocket, the documents said.
She recounted to investigators that she had no idea that a prison break was being planned until she had already started smuggling hacksaw blades to Matt, a painter who initially said he needed them to build frames for his artwork.
By then, she had complied with Matt's request to supply him with two pair of glasses with lights on them and a screwdriver bit.
Even after she learned in May of the escape plan, Mitchell continued to smuggle in batteries for the glasses and followed Matt's instructions to call to arrange a rendezvous with possible accomplices outside of prison to retrieve getaway cash - which she never picked up, court documents said.
Mitchell, who was supposed to drive her Jeep as the getaway car, got cold feet after Matt revealed he planned to kill her husband, whom he called "the glitch," the documents said.
She was instructed to slip her husband some knock-out pills and then drive to meet the escapees, bringing along her cell phone, a shotgun that Matt could saw off, a hatchet, sleeping bags, fishing poles and a GPS so they could find their way to an undisclosed location in the woods about seven hours away, the documents said.
"I was caught up in the fantasy," Mitchell said in a sworn document. "I enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me and the thought of a different life."
Mitchell faces up to seven years in prison when she is sentenced on Sept. 28 for a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)