Cool, rainy weather hinders hunt for loose killers on Day 11Posted: Updated:
Search teams hindered by cool, rainy weather combed through woods in far northern New York for an 11th day trying to track down two escaped murderers as one official raised doubts Tuesday that they relied solely on a now-jailed prison worker to help them get away after their breakout.
More than 800 law enforcement officers who are searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt shifted their focus eastward along Route 374 leading from the village of Dannemora, home of Clinton Correctional Facility.
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said rain has been washing away any scent search dogs might find and interfering with thermal imaging devices being used to detect body heat.
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, escaped June 6 from the maximum-security prison near the Canadian border.
Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Meanwhile, the woman charged with helping the killers flee by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools was visited in jail Tuesday by her husband, also a prison worker.
Favro described Joyce Mitchell, 51, as "composed" during the morning visit with her husband, Lyle.
Prosecutors say Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.
District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Monday that there was no evidence the men had a Plan B once Mitchell backed out, and no vehicles have been reported stolen in the area. That has led searchers to believe the men are still near the prison.
But Favro said Tuesday that while he has "no concrete information," he doesn't believe the escapees would have counted only on Mitchell for the ultimate success of their "elaborate, well-thought-out escape plan."
"My theory --my theory only -- is that she was Plan B," he said. "I would have viewed her as baggage, almost, for them to be able to escape into freedom because she's leaving behind a family and a husband."
He said investigators won't be certain until the fugitives are caught.
But Favro said, "I find it difficult to believe right from Day One that they would go through that -- probably took some time to really map together -- and they would get out on the hopes that a civilian worker that they found would assist them in actually getting away,"
Mitchell was charged Friday with supplying contraband, including a punch and a screwdriver, to the two inmates. She has pleaded not guilty. She has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison.
Authorities say the convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole. Wylie says they apparently used tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work.
In Broome County, where Sweat and his cousin killed a deputy in 2002, Sheriff David Harder said his office has been investigating since Sweat broke out of prison, contacting his family and associates and committing about 50 officers to the case. Sweat was "a kind of survivalist," who was caught in the woods in New York's Southern Tier five days after that killing after somebody came forward with information, he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.