PLATTSBURGH - Prison employee Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that she helped two convicted killers stage a dramatic escape from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in June.
Dabbing tears from her eyes, Mitchell, 51, pleaded guilty to promoting prison contraband in the first degree, a felony, and criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor. Mitchell, a supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop, was charged with providing the inmates, David Sweat and Richard W. Matt, with tools that aided in their escape, including hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.
Officials said that Mitchell brought some of the tools into the prison concealed in a slab of frozen ground beef.
The Clinton County district attorney, Andrew J. Wylie, said at the court appearance that under the terms of the plea agreement, Mitchell would be given a sentence from 2 1/3 years to 7 years and required to pay a $6,000 fine. She will be sentenced at another court appearance in September.
Mitchell’s husband, Lyle Mitchell, who has said the inmates told his wife that they wanted to kill him, watched from the front row of the gallery.
Mitchell, wearing black and white prison garb, seemed meek in court, standing next to her attorney, Stephen Johnston, quietly responding to the judge as he laid out the terms of the deal.
Mitchell has not spoken to the press, and her motivation for assisting Matt, a Tonawanda native, and Sweat was not clear, though speculation was that she had a personal relationship with one or both of the men. Officials said that she had planned to act as the escapees’ getaway driver but failed to meet the men as planned, leaving Matt and Sweat to traverse miles of rugged terrain to evade more than 1,000 law enforcement officers hunting them.
Both men were convicted murderers: Matt had been convicted of murdering and dismembering an elderly North Tonawanda man, and had also stabbed and killed a man in Mexico in 1998. Sweat, 35, had been convicted of murdering a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002.
After three weeks on the run, Matt was shot and killed by a federal agent in the woods of Malone about 35 miles west of the prison. Two days later, Sweat, 35, was shot and apprehended by a State Police sergeant who spotted the fugitive running down a rural road just south of the Canadian border. Sweat was briefly hospitalized and is now being held in the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Romulus.