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David Sweat testifies Richard Matt told him he killed Tonawanda woman in '93

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Convicted murderers David Sweat (L) and Richard Matt escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)

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While plotting his prison escape with another inmate six years ago, Richard W. Matt said he killed a woman in the City of Tonawanda in 1993, the other inmate testified Tuesday in a Buffalo courtroom.

As they talked in front of a fire in the Clinton Correctional Facility recreation yard in Dannemora, Matt told David Sweat about how he choked and stabbed the woman, stole from her home and went looking through papers in the house for anything she had written down, Sweat testified.

A Tonawanda police detective allegedly told Matt "they had to get rid of her because she was going to rat them out," Sweat said.

Sweat testified as a witness at a hearing to determine whether new evidence exonerates two other men convicted of killing Deborah Meindl on Feb. 17, 1993.

Sweat in 2015 escaped from prison with Matt, who was gunned down in a shoot-out with police while on the run and who should have been considered a suspect in Meindl's murder, according to defense lawyers for the two men convicted of her murder.

Meindl was handcuffed, stabbed 11 times and strangled with a necktie inside her Franklin Street home.

Brian S. Lorenzo and James Pugh were convicted of the murder. Lorenzo remains incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility, while Pugh is on parole.

Their attorneys are asking a judge to vacate their convictions. The hearing began Monday with a former Erie County prosecutor testifying he concluded after his investigation earlier this year that Lorenzo and Pugh did not kill Meindl.

At 3:22 p.m. Tuesday, two Department of Corrections and Community Supervision officers escorted Sweat – wearing glasses, green prison garb and shackles around his ankles and wrists – into the courtroom through a side door and to the witness stand.

Before the escape, Sweat was already serving a life sentence without parole for the killing of a sheriff's deputy. Matt, himself convicted of two murders, told Sweat the Meindl murder was committed at the request of David Bentley – who Matt typically referred to as "the cop" – a long-retired Tonawanda detective.

Bentley has denied Sweat's claims, calling them "ridiculous and ludicrous." Bentley has said Sweat is trying to curry favor with law enforcement to obtain some type of benefit. Bentley has told The Buffalo News he offered to voluntarily submit to a lie detector test before representatives of the District Attorney's Office to prove he had no involvement in Meindl's killing.

Bentley has spoken in the past about knowing Matt, having spent nearly 20 years trying to turn him away from a life of crime.

Sweat, who spent 72 minutes under oath, said Meindl's killing wasn't the only one Matt confessed to for which he had not faced charges. There was another killing in Buffalo involving a man who was a drug dealer whom Matt and Bentley were "shaking down," said Sweat, who is currently incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Orange County.

In the Meindl killing, Matt never told Sweat the victim's name, but he did say others had been convicted in the case, Sweat said.

Sweat said Matt led him to believe there was another person with Matt when Meindl was killed.

Matt told him the scene of the killing looked like someone may have tried to make it appear like a burglary and that there were handcuffs left behind, Sweat said.

"When he told me the story, I was just in disbelief," he said.

On Aug. 25, former Assistant District Attorney David Heraty visited Sweat at Auburn Correctional Facility, where he was incarcerated at the time, to talk with him about Meindl's killing, he said.

Heraty asked if Sweat knew anything about this murder Matt may have committed, if Matt had any kind of a relationship with a police officer.

"He wanted to know if I thought Matt was capable of doing something like that," Sweat said.

Sweat said he was not completely forthcoming with Heraty.

"I was trying to feed him bits of information without trying to get involved in it," he said.

Sweat was eventually contacted by attorneys for Lorenzo and Pugh, and he signed a sworn statement about what he said he was told by Matt.

Sweat said he wrote a letter to Heraty and tried to contact him to set up another face-to-face meeting. Heraty was taken off the case before that could happen, but two investigators from the District Attorney's Office conducted a subsequent interview with Sweat at the prison.

During that interview, the investigators told him the handcuffs found at the scene were plastic toy handcuffs, Sweat said.

District Attorney John Flynn said he and his leadership team disagreed with Heraty's conclusions about the Meindl case.

"There is no credible evidence to link Richard Matt" to Meindl's murder, Flynn said in a previous statement.

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