DANNEMORA, N.Y. — The intense manhunt for two escaped murderers in upstate New York hit its 10th day as a woman charged with helping the killers flee from prison appeared in court Monday.
Prosecutors say Joyce Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who had befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.
She waived a preliminary hearing during a brief court appearance. She wore a striped jumpsuit and what appeared to be a bulletproof vest.
Mitchell has been charged with helping Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border on June 6.
“Basically, when it was ’go’ time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, ’What am I doing?”’ Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Sunday. “Reality struck.”
Wylie said 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 maximum-security prison in Dannemora. At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo cautioned that for all anyone knows the convicts could be in Mexico, where one of the inmates had fled after killing his boss in the late 1990s.
Mitchell, 51, was charged Friday with supplying hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver. Her lawyer entered a not guilty plea on her behalf. 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.
Brian Barrett, a criminal defence lawyer not involved in the case, said Mitchell could face liability if Matt and Sweat commit new crimes and she’s found responsible for helping them escape.
“Certainly she would be civilly liable,” Barrett said.
Wylie said Sunday that the killers apparently cut their way out using tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night’s work.
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, authorities said.