DNA discovery narrows intense manhunt for escaped prisoners

Hundreds of armed searchers combed through heavy woods in far northern New York on Tuesday after new DNA evidence narrowed the hunt for two murderers who escaped from a maximum-security prison more than two weeks ago.

BELLMONT, N.Y. — Hundreds of armed searchers combed through heavy woods in far northern New York on Tuesday after new DNA evidence narrowed the hunt for two murderers who escaped from a maximum-security prison more than two weeks ago.

A hunting camp that apparently was broken into days ago led to “good evidence, DNA data” regarding David Sweat and Richard Matt, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Roadblocks were in place around the remote hamlets of Owls Head and Mountain View in an area of rugged terrain about 20 miles (32 kilometres) west of Clinton County Correctional Facility.

Challenges for both the escaped prisoners and their pursuers included thick, mosquito-infested forests and sometimes heavy rain in a remote area popular with hunters and campers but with spotty mobile phone coverage.

Searchers were checking logging roads and railroad beds and going door-to-door, said Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill. He said people were checking seasonal properties, which can be abandoned for months, for signs of intruders.

Authorities hoped that an 18-day search might finally be close to the end.

“If they’re here, we’re going to find them,” Mulverhill said. “I really believe it’s going to come down to old-fashioned police work and the public.”

Meanwhile, the husband of the woman accused of helping the inmates escape said in an interview aired Tuesday on NBC that he’s “absolutely 100 per cent” certain the pair would have killed him and his wife if his wife had been their getaway driver, as initially planned.

Lyle Mitchell said his wife, Joyce Mitchell, told him Sweat and Matt offered to give her pills to knock him out so she could pick them up after they escaped, but she refused because she said she still loved her husband.

“Do I still love her? Yes. Am I mad? Yes,” Lyle Mitchell said.

Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.

Sweat and Matt escaped from the prison in Dannemora on June 6. Authorities say they cut through the steel wall at the back of their cell, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe, and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

A weekend encounter swung the search to its current location. Terry Bellinger, owner of nearby Belly’s Mountain View Inn, said a hunter told him he saw a man run into the woods as he approached a cabin Saturday. Inside, the hunter noticed a jug of water and an open jar of peanut butter on a table.

Mulverhill said there were no new sightings by midday Tuesday. He said a tight perimeter would be established if needed Tuesday night. Listening posts would be set up and aircraft would be sent on patrol.