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Escapees split up 5 days before Matt was killed

ALBANY – Worried that he was being slowed down by his fellow escaped murderer, David P. Sweat separated from Richard W. Matt five days before Matt was killed by law enforcement near a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains’ woods.

The two fugitives also planned to go to Mexico in a car owned by Joyce E. Mitchell, the Clinton Correctional Facility staff member who recently was arrested for helping the two escape from the maximum-security prison June 6.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo revealed their plan in a radio interview Monday on “The Capitol Pressroom.”

Sweat, who was captured Sunday in the Town of Constable, Franklin County, about a mile and a half from the Canadian border, has talked with law enforcement, including outlines of the escape plan, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the two convicts hatched a plan to kill Mitchell’s husband and drive with her in her car to Mexico where, he said, they would live “happily ever after.” Matt had lived in Mexico while on the lam some years ago and killed a man there in a bar.

“The plan was to head to Mexico,” Cuomo said.

When Mitchell did not show up as the two men emerged from a manhole on a street outside the prison walls, the two escaped prisoners decided instead to head to Canada.

But the 35-year-old Sweat, younger and in better shape, believed that Matt, who turned 49 on Thursday, was slowing him down, so the two men separated five days before Matt was shot to death Friday. Cuomo said Sweat was not near the cabin where a federal Border Patrol agent shot Matt in the head three times Friday.

As for the power tools used in the escape, Cuomo said Sunday that the inmates came upon a “job box” a construction worker had left at a work site in one of the prison’s tunnels and that one of the escapees picked open the box’s lock to gain access to the tools.

An area law enforcement official said that even if Sweat had crossed the border, Canadian authorities were already working in conjunction with U.S. law enforcement and were prepared to cooperate in the manhunt.

The governor also said that Sweat, who was shot twice by a state trooper as he tried to flee, is now in stable condition at Albany Medical Center after being shot twice in the torso by a State Police sergeant.

After being taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone on Sunday night, Sweat was transferred to Albany, where he was listed in critical condition. On Monday, the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Dennis P. McKenna, released a statement on Sweat’s condition.

“David Sweat underwent diagnostic evaluations at Albany Medical Center Sunday night to further define the extent of his injuries,” McKenna said. “Following examination, it was determined by our trauma team that he did not require any surgeries at that time. The trauma team includes a trauma surgeon, an intensive care doctor, and other specialists. He was observed and treated for his injuries overnight.

“As of Monday morning, his condition has been upgraded to serious, reflecting an improvement from his condition Sunday night. David Sweat will remain at Albany Medical Center for at least a few days while his condition stabilizes, and updates on his condition will be provided as appropriate.

“The New York State Police, working in coordination with the Albany Police, the Department of Corrections and the Albany Medical Center security staff are taking all appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of our patients and their families, our employees, and the public.”

Cuomo has said that a review is underway by an inspector general whom he appointed. There have been calls for an investigation to be conducted by an entity outside the Cuomo administration. The governor Monday morning also dismissed any connection between state agency budget trimming, such as at the corrections department, and security at the Dannemora prison that may have contributed to making it easier for Matt and Sweat to escape.

Earlier Monday morning, Cuomo told CNN that Sweat had a number of items to try to help him cope with his time in the woods of northern New York. “He had maps, he had a certain amount of tools, he had bug repellent, he had wipes, he had Pop-Tarts which interestingly is also the breakfast of Christopher,” Cuomo said in reference to his brother, Chris, who is co-host of the CNN morning show. “So he had a number of items in the backpack, which as part of the investigation, we want to find out where they got them. Was that planned before? Did he acquire that after his escape? So … there’s an ongoing investigation to find out exactly how they did this and the extent of cooperation they received from the people in the prison.”

Questions on whether Sweat, already serving a life sentence for the 2002 killing of Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin J. Tarsia, will be truthful and continue to cooperate as the investigation progresses were raised by a retired Clinton Correctional Facility sergeant, Jeff Dumas, in an interview with CNN.

An incentive for cooperating, Dumas suggested, would be to shorten an anticipated stretch of seven or more years in solitary confinement.

“It’s a bargaining chip for him now,” Dumas said. “Within the department, he’s going to be locked into a cell, 23 out of 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement. … He’s going to try to use that chip with New York State so he isn’t locked into 23 out of 24 (hours) for an extended period of time.”

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew J. Wylie said authorities are eager to learn how Sweat escaped and survived for more then three weeks in the wild, though the DA appeared to limit the possibility of a plea bargain on escape charges in exchange for those details. “There’s certainly no plea bargain that we could put out there,” Wylie told CNN. “The Department of Corrections obviously wants information; they want answers, as well, relative to how this escape occurred. So on that end, whatever benefit that may be for David Sweat, only the time will tell.”

Dumas added that even if Sweat further cooperates, he might not tell the truth. “That’s what you have to worry about – what’s in it for him?” Dumas said. “We will see if this guy is narcissistic, if he has that type of ego that he wants to display everything that he’s done and actually tell the truth, or if he’s going to mislead investigators and just play a game to entertain himself while he’s locked in.”

Sweat’s mother, Pamela, in an interview with TWC News, expressed relief that her son was captured.

“It was a sigh of relief … he wasn’t killed,” the Binghamton-area woman said, adding that she would have turned her son over to authorities. Since he was a young boy, she said, David Sweat has been a troublemaker and violent.

The family of Tarsia issued a statement following Sweat’s capture: “To have someone you loved be ambushed, shot 15 times and then run over with a car simply for stopping to check unusual activity in a town park … is a pain that no one can understand if you have not been through it firsthand.”

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report. email: tprecious@buffnews.com