New York woman gets seven years prison for helping inmates escape

By Pete DeMola

(Reuters) - A prison employee who helped two convicted murderers escape from a maximum security prison in upstate New York was sentenced on Monday to up to 7 years behind bars for providing the inmates with tools used in their daring break-out.

The judge rebuked Joyce Mitchell, 51, who worked as a supervisor at the tailor shop of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, for the terror experienced by the surrounding community during the nearly month-long manhunt for convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat.

"You did terrible things," Judge Kevin Ryan told Mitchell as she stood shackled before him, her husband looking on from the courtroom's front row.

Mitchell, who accepted a deal with prosecutors in which she admitted smuggling hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit for the June 6 escape, apologized for "the worst mistake I have ever made in my life." She had agreed to drive a getaway car as well, but at the last minute second thoughts stopped her from meeting the escapees.

"I was fearful of Mr. Matt killing my husband," the weeping Mitchell said. "I never intended for all this to happen."

The judge sentenced her to 2 1/3 to 7 years and a $5,000 fine for promoting prison contraband and a concurrent 1-year prison term and $1,000 fine for criminal facilitation.

The state inspector general asked that she pay almost $120,000 in restitution for reconstruction costs after the men broke through prison walls, climbed down a catwalk, squeezed through a steam pipe and emerged from a manhole outside the prison walls. A hearing on restitution will be held at a later date.

After a three-week manhunt through the Adirondack Mountains, Matt, 49, was fatally shot by a federal agent on June 26 about 27 miles (43 km) away from the prison. Sweat, 35, was captured two days later about 2 miles (3 km) from the Canadian border.

Sweat had been scheduled to appear in Plattsburgh City Court on Tuesday to face felony escape charges, but his case was pulled from the docket, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said on Friday in an email, without elaborating.

Wylie declined to say whether Sweat and his assigned counsel, Joseph Mucia, were considering a possible plea deal with prosecutors.

Sweat, who was serving a life sentence without parole at Clinton Correctional, faces a $5,000 fine and up to seven years in prison on each of three felony charges.

A conviction on the escape charges would have led to more stringent conditions for Sweat at Five Points Correctional Facility, where he was transferred soon after his capture, Wylie said.

A second prison employee also faces charges in the escape. Correction officer Gene Palmer is accused of helping give contraband to the inmates and destroying evidence.

An investigation by the state inspector general's office is still underway.

Under the plea deal, Mitchell will not face any possible sexual assault or rape charges stemming from allegations that she had sexual relations with Matt or Sweat, Wylie said.