Prison employee supplied blades, chisels to escaped killers, court docs say

A worker at an upstate New York maximum-security prison who allegedly helped two convicted murderers escape last weekend brought the men hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit, according to court documents.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, a prison tailor shop instructor, was arraigned late Friday night on the felony charge of promoting prison contraband and misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation. Keith Bruno, Mitchell’s lawyer, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Mitchell is accused of befriending inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. and giving them contraband. The inmates used power tools to cut through their cell walls and a steam pipe and escaped through a manhole last week.

Wearing a neon green short-sleeved top and jeans, Mitchell entered the courtroom with her hands cuffed in front of her. She seemed scared and did not speak. She was ordered held in jail on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond on felony county and is due back in court Monday morning.

District Attorney Andrew Wylie said earlier the contraband didn’t include power tools used by the men as they cut holes in their cell walls.

More than 800 law enforcement officers continued to search for the convicted killers, concentrating in a rural area around the prison in the Adirondacks near the Canadian border. Earlier residents reported seeing two men jumping a stone wall near Dannemora.

"We're coming for you, and we will not stop until you are caught," state police Maj. Charles Guess said in addressing the escapees as he headed a news conference after Mitchell's arrest.

Guess said officers were getting closer to finding the men even though the searchers were battling bad weather.

"They've got to be cold, wet, tired and hungry" if they haven't escaped the area or found shelter, Guess said.

Mitchell’s family contends she wouldn’t have helped the convicts break out.

Mitchell is also suspected of agreeing to be the getaway driver but didn’t show up, leaving them en on foot early Saturday morning.

Mitchell has a job with a yearly salary of $57,697, overseeing inmates who sew clothes and learn to repair sewing machines at the prison. Amid the criminal case, she was suspended without pay.

Within the last year, officials looked into whether Mitchell had improper ties to the 34-year-old Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy, Wylie said. The investigation didn’t turn up enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of Matt's 76-year-old former boss, whose body was found in pieces in a river.

On Thursday, a person close to the investigation said Mitchell had befriended the two men and agreed to be the getaway driver but never showed up. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A former slipper-factory employee who won three terms as tax collector in her town near Dannemora, Mitchell has worked at the prison for at least five years, according to a neighbor, Sharon Currier. Mitchell's husband, Lyle, also works in industrial training there.

"She's a good, good person," Currier said. "She's not somebody who's off the wall."

The garment shop is intended to give prisoners job skills and work habits. In general, an inmate assigned to such a job might work several hours a day there, five days a week, meaning he would have significant contact with supervisors.

Mitchell's union, Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, would not comment Friday on the investigation of Mitchell or the current allegations.

But her daughter-in-law, Paige Mitchell, said this week that her mother-in-law never mentioned Sweat, Matt or any other inmates she encountered. "She doesn't get too involved," Paige Mitchell told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh.

And Mitchell's son Tobey told NBC that she would not have helped the inmates escape and that she checked herself into a hospital with chest pains on Saturday, the day the breakout was discovered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report