MALONE – Prison escapee David Sweat’s DNA was found in the general area where his accomplice, Richard Matt, was gunned down Friday afternoon by a tactical team in Malone, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said.
The new evidence is the first indication that Matt and Sweat had stuck together until at least a few hours before Matt was shot.
Last weekend, authorities found DNA from both men at a burglarized hunting camp in Owls Head. Matt’s DNA turned up at another burglarized cabin in the area Wednesday, but they had no evidence – either forensic or sightings – at all of Sweat.
Speculation had grown that Matt and Sweat had perhaps parted ways days ago. But the new evidence tells law enforcement that Sweat is likely still nearby.
In the meantime, autopsy results on Matt’s body showed that he was shot three times in the head.
“Dr. Michael Sikirica determined the cause of death to be severe skull fractures and brain injuries due to gunshot wounds to the head,” a statement from State Police said.
Matt watt was shot by a Vermont-based U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tactical Unit member who discharged several rounds from a semi-automatic weapon, officials said.
Also, the autopsy revealed that Matt’s three weeks on the run weren’t pleasant ones.
Bug bites were found on his lower extremities, along with “blisters and minor abrasions consistent with living in the woods for three weeks,” the statement read.
The Buffalo News reported Sunday that Matt was ill and drunk when he was shot. A law enforcement source revealed that soiled underwear was found Wednesday in a burglarized cabin. The DNA on the underwear was matched to Matt and indicated he was sick, possibly from drinking bad water or eating spoiled food. The source also said Matt’s body had a strong odor of alcohol.
More than 1,300 federal, state and local are now combing the dense woods of Franklin County in the northern Adirondack Mountains in the hunt for Sweat, who was doing a life sentence at Clinton Correctional for killing a Broome County sheriff’s deputy.
State police said Sunday that the search would continue to focus on the same area they have been scouring since last weekend. But search parties were also moving into areas north and south of the village of Malone, officials said.
The conditions have been terrible for the search.
Heavy rains were soaking the region Sunday. State troopers, corrections officers and others tracking Sweat in the rugged terrain in Franklin County are dressed for the elements.
Sweat, on the lam for more than three weeks, is likely not.
More than at any other time since he and Richard Matt escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6, weather probably is a huge contributor to Sweat’s physical condition.
The area is under a flood watch for the rest of the day, adding one more problem for Sweat along with hunger, thirst, wet, cold, insects and every other challenge the mountains present.
“The more you think about it – what sort of condition is he in? He could be dead from the elements,” said Gordon Crossman, vice-chairman of the Franklin County Board of Legislators said of Sunday’s conditions in Franklin County.
The weather forecasts remain ominous in the North Country at least for the rest of Sunday. The National Weather Service at Plattsburgh International Airport calls for a 100 percent chance of rain throughout Sunday, along with a possible thunderstorm. The high is expected to reach only 58 degrees. As much as half-inch of new precipitation is possible.
Showers and a thunderstorm are possible Sunday night, while the chance of rain falls to 40 percent on Monday, with a high of 66 degrees.
Crossman said the residents of Franklin County, which includes the communities of Saranac Lake, Owls Head and Malone, are locking their doors and looking over their shoulders a lot more than usual nowadays but are heartened by the support from law enforcement.
“We’re all very anxious for this to be over so people can get back to their normal lives,” said Gordon Crossman, vice-chairman of the Franklin County Board of Legislators.
Yet, he said, Franklin County residents have been coping with the stressful situation as best they can.
“The people have been amazing here in how well they’ve handled it, how they’ve drawn together to help each other,” Crossman said.
In addition to their intensive search for the other escapee, David Sweat, law enforcement from the state police, border patrol and other agencies are escorting anxious area residents to their homes and cabins. The community has shown their appreciation by bringing food and coffee to law enforcement officers working out in the field.
“We’re very proud of the people,” Crossman said. “They have a great deal of respect for the officers.”
How did area residents feel when word came down Matt was taken down by a police bullet Friday?
“People were just elated – not that he was dead so much – but really, that they didn’t have to worry about him,” Crossman said.
Matt’s death raised hope that Sweat would also have been nabbed soon afterward, but that hope has started to recede.
Still, there seems to be confidence Sweat, one way or the other, won’t continue to elude authorities much longer.
“It’s nasty,” Crossman said of the weather.