PLATTSBURGH – A small favor for a killer’s daughter. A stolen kiss and a furtive sexual encounter. And ultimately, sneaking tools past guards for use in an audacious escape from a maximum-security prison.
Such were the moments that marked Joyce E. Mitchell’s evolution from a workaday prison employee to a love-struck and fully aware accomplice, as outlined in three statements Mitchell made last month to investigators.
Mitchell, 51, pleaded guilty Tuesday to assisting Richard W. Matt and David Sweat, two convicted murderers, in their elaborate breakout last month from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. With the help of tools smuggled in by Mitchell, the convicts sawed through their cell walls and cut their way in and out of a steam pipe, finally emerging in the town.
She did not feel she could stop, Mitchell said, adding, “They were getting out and we were all going to be together.”
The escape set off a three-week manhunt before Matt, a former City of Tonawanda resident, was shot and killed on June 26 and Sweat was shot and captured on June 28.
Officials have offered ample details about the inmates’ plans and the law enforcement pursuit, and Sweat himself has bragged about his role in the escape. But the central question of what drove Mitchell, a soft-spoken married woman, to help the prisoners has only now been answered.
Her statements to investigators sketch a vivid chronology of how Mitchell, a former supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop, came to commit her crimes by falling for a prisoner, eventually succumbing to the seemingly irresistible momentum and dark excitement of the escape scheme.
Mitchell was meant to be the getaway driver. She was to meet the two men at midnight near the prison’s powerhouse, but she suffered a panic attack and did not show up. That panic may have been caused by threats made by the two men directed at Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, whom the inmates nicknamed “the Glitch,” and whom they planned to drug and murder.
“Inmate Matt was going to kill ‘the Glitch,’” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s confession was first reported by NBC, and the statements were obtained by the New York Times through a Freedom of Information request. They reveal how deeply involved Mitchell was with the men and how detailed their escape plan was.
Mitchell, for example, was meant to drive a Jeep, with four-wheel drive, “because the place we were going was in the woods.” Mitchell was also meant to bring an array of supplies for the escape, including a gun, GPS, tents, sleeping bags, money, a cellphone and “fishing poles.” Matt also asked Mitchell to “bring a shotgun that he could saw off,” she said.
The plan was to hide out somewhere six to seven hours from Dannemora “until it quieted down.” Then, after about a week, she and Sweat would continue to hide and Matt would go on his own.
“I was caught up in the fantasy,” she said. “I enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me, and the thought of a different life.”
But while she said she liked Sweat, her primary affections were undoubtedly for Matt.
“Each time he would ask me for a tool, I would go to the store and get them,” she said June 8, two days after the escape.
The statements show the seduction of Mitchell by Matt, 49, who had dark, rakish good looks and a charming demeanor, according to officials and Mitchell.
“Inmate Matt and I got along well,” Mitchell told investigators on June 7, just a day after he and Sweat were discovered missing. “We talked every day and he treated me with respect and was nice to me. He made me feel special.”
Matt and Sweat worked in sections of the prison’s tailor shop, although Sweat had been separated from Mitchell in September after prison officials suspected “an inappropriate relationship.” Mitchell, however, denied having romantic feelings for Sweat.
Matt, though – who had killed two men, including his former boss, whom he dismembered – was different. Last fall, Mitchell began doing errands for him, including calling his daughter to check whether she had received a painting he had made. (He was an amateur portraitist.)
Mitchell admits knowing it was wrong but began regularly contacting the daughter, who was grateful. “She was glad her father had someone on the inside who was looking out for him,” Mitchell said.
In November, Mitchell asked Matt to paint a portrait of her three children as an anniversary gift for her husband, who also worked in the prison tailor shop. In exchange, Mitchell bought the inmate a pair of boxing gloves, though Matt did not finish the painting in time. Other presents followed: cookies, brownies, pepper.
But the requests took a more suspicious turn, as Matt asked Mitchell to buy two pairs of spectacles, equipped with lights, which the two men apparently used as they worked at nights, unnoticed by corrections officers.
The relationship and plot quickly intensified. In late April, Mitchell said, Matt suddenly “grabbed me and kissed me” and the relationship then became sexual.
Mitchell also said that she took partially nude photos for Sweat and wrote him provocative notes, but that she did not have sexual contact with him.
In May, Matt asked for – and received from Mitchell – hacksaw blades, which the prisoner initially said were for making frames. But that ruse was soon abandoned.
“Inmate Matt was coming into work tired,” Mitchell said. “I asked him about sleeping and he said he was up all night. After a couple of days, he told me he and Inmate Sweat had cut the holes and were going down into the pipes.” A June 10 statement to investigators gave hints of the subterfuge Mitchell and the inmates used to evade detection. The hacksaws were hidden in frozen hamburger – Matt told guards it was for goulash – and transported in an envelope that also contained tubes of paint. Later, chisels and a punch were smuggled into the prison the same way, she said.
Mitchell also began making phone calls for Matt, disguising her identity by pretending to be a hospital employee. The point of those calls was not clear, but Mitchell soon learned that the men had chosen a day to break out: June 5.
“He told me that they were getting out tonight and we were all going to be together, me, him and Inmate Sweat,” she said. “He told me to pick them up in Dannemora.”
But Mitchell’s resolve weakened as the day progressed.
After leaving work and having dinner with her husband, “I was not feeling well,” she said. By 10 p.m. she was in a hospital emergency room; she later was admitted, leaving Matt and Sweat – by then on the loose – to fend for themselves.
She faces up to seven years in prison as part of her guilty plea.
“I am,” she concluded, “really sorry for what I have done.”