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NY prison worker pleads guilty in escape of 2 killers

By MICHAEL HILL
Associated Press

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - A prison worker admitted Tuesday to smuggling hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat to two killers who later broke out and spent more than two weeks on the run, and prosecutors said they believed no one else knowingly aided in the elaborate escape.

Joyce Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at Clinton Correctional Facility, wept as she pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal facilitation.

Mitchell, 51, faces a sentence of 2 1/3 years to 7 years in prison under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. Sentencing is set for Sept. 28. Her lawyer said his client won't be able to post the bail set by the judge at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.

Mitchell was jailed shortly after the elaborately staged June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat. Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26, about 30 miles west of the northern New York prison; Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later and sent to another prison.

She admitted providing hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Matt. Authorities say she became close to the pair and agreed to be their getaway driver. But she backed out at the last moment, forcing Matt and Sweat to flee on foot after they emerged from a manhole near the maximum-security prison.

Defense attorney Stephen Johnston said Mitchell "got in over her head."

"I think that to a certain extent Matt got her to feeling good about herself, better than she had for a period of time, and she was swept off her feet a bit, for a period," Johnston said. "And then when she realized who she was dealing with everything changed."

Investigators also said Mitchell had discussed killing her husband, Lyle Mitchell, as part of the plot.

Lyle Mitchell was in court Tuesday and declined to speak with an Associated Press reporter afterward.

Authorities said Joyce Mitchell smuggled the hacksaw blades and other tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat she placed in a refrigerator in the tailor shop. They said corrections officer Gene Palmer then took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their meals.

Authorities do not believe Palmer knew of the escape plan. He was released on bail after being arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband.

Corrections officials said Tuesday that Mitchell, who was arrested June 12, resigned from her job on June 25 and remains eligible for a pension.

Investigators do not think knowledge of the plot went beyond Matt, Sweat and Mitchell.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said he expected the Palmer and Sweat cases to go to a grand jury next month.

"At this time, there are no other individuals who have been identified through the investigation as being involved directly or indirectly with the June 6, 2015 escape," he said.

Matt and Sweat cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to tunnels, broke through a brick wall, cut into and out of a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away, authorities said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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