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Probe Expands Into Prison Worker Charged With Helping Escapees

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's get an update now on the two inmates who escaped from a prison in upstate New York nearly two weeks ago. They are convicted murderers on the run from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Investigators believe that they were helped by an employee at the prison - and now another twist. A prosecutor says that employee, a woman named Joyce Mitchell, conspired with the inmates to kill her husband. North Country Public Radio's Zach Hirsch reports.

ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: Police say Joyce Mitchell, the former prison tailor shop instructor, gave the men small tools, like saw blades and drill bits. She was also allegedly planning on being the getaway driver for Richard Matt and David Sweat, who cut and crawled their way through the bowels of the prison and emerged from a manhole almost two weeks ago.

ANDREW WYLIE: You're supposed to meet them at midnight.

HIRSCH: That's Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie. He's brought two charges against Mitchell so far, felony promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. For those, she faces up to eight years in prison. Wylie says there could be more severe charges. He believes Mitchell schemed with the inmates to murder her husband, Lyle.

WYLIE: There was a plot to kill Lyle Mitchell between the two inmates, and that - Joyce Mitchell was aware of it.

HIRSCH: He declined to give specific details. But in a briefing with reporters, he appeared to think out loud about it, saying breaking out of prison and going to commit a murder nearby doesn't make sense.

WYLIE: They pop out of the hole, you would think, get out of the village as soon and as quickly as possible.

HIRSCH: One of the reasons law enforcement officials still believe the escaped inmates could be close to the prison is because they've said Mitchell decided not to give the two men a ride after all. Tracking dogs picked up the scent of both inmates in the woods around the village of Dannemora.

WYLIE: We had a massive perimeter search in an area that we had information that these two men could've been at. And we haven't totally exhausted that, but we need to open this up.

HIRSCH: The manhunt is scaling down in that area, after New York state, local and federal officials scoured more than 16 square miles without any confirmed sightings. Now roadblocks have been removed, a rural highway reopened, and some of the corrections officers, state troopers and forest rangers who have been slogging through the woodlands and swamps are going back to their normal duties. At the press conference, the crowd of top officials from state police, FBI and other members of the search team look exhausted. At one point, Wylie mentioned that he's been getting about three hours of sleep each night since this all began. Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said it's no time for people to let their guard down.

DAVID FAVRO: You're referring to it as a press conference. I personally would like to refer to it as a pep rally. I think we need to let the community know that since we don't have concrete leads indicating that they may be outside the area, we still need to stay motivated. We still need the assistance of the eyes and the ears giving us your information.

HIRSCH: Wylie has said he believes the cost of the manhunt could be upwards of a million dollars a day. It's now day 13 of the search. For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch in northern New York.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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