A former prison employee who admitted to helping two convicted killers escape from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York was sentenced on Monday to at least two years and four months in prison.
“You did terrible things,” Judge Kevin K. Ryan of Clinton County Court told the employee, Joyce E. Mitchell, during her sentencing hearing. “At any time, you could have stopped the escape from happening.”
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Mitchell could spend up to seven years in prison.
Mitchell, wearing a black-and-white prison uniform, wept openly in court and struggled to read a statement apologizing for her role in helping Richard W. Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.
“I am 51 years old, and this is by far the worst mistake I have made in my life,” she said through tears. “I live with regret every day and will for the rest of my life.”
Ryan said he had received many letters from the public asking him to reject the deal and sentence Mitchell to more time.
“Letter writers seem to believe that if additional charges were brought, an additional sentence could be eventually imposed if there were a conviction,” he said. “The problem with this thought is that it confuses the separate roles of the court and the prosecutor.”
He said he had no authority to alter the deal but made it clear that he did not believe Mitchell’s argument that she was acting out of fear for her family.
Ryan said that the prison escape had cost the state millions of dollars and had noneconomic costs that were “incalculable.”
“A large portion of the local population was terrorized,” he said. “Many residents did not sleep for many nights.”
He said that scores of police officers engaged in the hunt for the men, “never knowing if the next step they took in deeply wooded areas would be their last.”
In July, Mitchell pleaded guilty to playing a central role in helping Matt and Sweat escape. The breakout was followed by one of the largest manhunts in the state’s history.
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.
Sweat was shot and apprehended two days later by a State Police sergeant who spotted him running down a rural road just south of the Canadian border.
Sweat is now at the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Romulus.
Mitchell was a supervisor in the prison tailor shop, where both inmates worked. At her July plea hearing, she acknowledged her role, and in her statements she exposed a culture of improper relations between prison workers and inmates.
Mitchell acknowledged performing sexual favors for one of the men, and she outlined how she gave them tools, including hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit.
The Clinton County district attorney, Andrew J. Wylie, said Monday that under the terms of the deal, Mitchell would be given a sentence from 2∑ years to seven years and required to pay a $6,000 fine. She waived her right to a trial, he said, and has fully cooperated.
Stephen Johnston, Mitchell’s lawyer, said that his client had sat for more than 40 hours of interviews with the police and 10 hours with state investigators.
“She is very remorseful for what she did,” he said. “She feels horrible for what she did.”
Johnston said that while there was no disputing Mitchell’s role in the breakout, he said that he believed the men must have had help from others and that fact should not be lost because of Mitchell’s admission.
“I just do not understand how these men could have escaped without power tools,” he said. “I believe there was some other assistance, some way somehow, provided to these men.”