Authorities hopeful escaped killers will be captured by end of week

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DANNEMORA, New York — In New York’s recent history, almost every prison escapee was captured within 24 hours.

Almost every escapee, except for Richard Matt and David Sweat, who were on Day 6 of their run from authorities early Friday.

(Photo Credit: New York State Police/CNN)
(Photo Credit: New York State Police/CNN)

But tracking dogs picked up their scent, and authorities are hopeful they will capture them before the week is out.

“If this is an actual true lead that the dogs are following on, we hope to be successful in the next 24 hours,” Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Thursday night.

State data show that of the 29 inmates who fled between 2002 and 2013, only one was free for more than two days.

Authorities have been looking for Matt and Sweat since early Saturday morning, when they were discovered missing from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

The two used power tools to get out of their cells and cut into a steam pipe, navigating a tunnel of pipes and finally surfacing out a manhole. They left dummies in their beds.

‘I haven’t left home in two days’

Their escape sent jitters across neighboring Vermont, where authorities believed they’d fled to, and Canada, whose border is about 20 miles from the correctional facility.

Investigators are scouring northeast New York for clues, painstakingly checking wooded areas and roads, and popping open trunks at checkpoints.

Swarms of police are hovering around, peering into cars, a new ritual for the rural, idyllic area where people go to get away from urban crime.

“I haven’t left home in two days, I had to call in to work today because you wouldn’t be able to return back home,” Brooke Lepage said. “There were constant helicopters. Last night they had floodlights. There was a recorded (telephone) message telling us to stay in the house and make sure outside lights were on.”

Scent near a sandwich shop

Amid the mayhem, the search is narrowing down. It appears the escapees stopped at a sandwich shop not far from where they escaped.

Investigators are looking at surveillance video from a gas station about a mile away from the prison.

Tracking dogs picked up the scent of both prisoners at the station and followed it east toward the town of Cadyville, Wylie said. The gas station has a Subway sandwich shop, and the two might have been rummaging for food in the trash bin, authorities said.

Authorities are reviewing the limited security video from the store.

A perimeter is up around the site of the scent, and the dogs were working their way in Thursday night.

Investigators found an imprint from a shoe or boot as well as food wrappers in the area, a source said. Possible bedding — an indent in the grass or leaves — has also been discovered, Wylie said.

Did prisoner have a relationship with employee?

New details emerged about a prison employee who may have helped the inmates escape, authorities said.

State Department of Corrections officials had received a complaint about the relationship between prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell and one of the two escapees, according to a state official.

While there was no evidence to support the complaint, Wylie said, that does not mean there was no relationship.

“I don’t believe that the information was that there was absolutely no relationship,” he said.

Investigators zeroed in on Mitchell — whose relatives have denied her involvement in the breakout — because of the earlier complaint, the source said.

State corrections officials declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation, but New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said authorities believe Mitchell planned to pick up the inmates after their escape. She changed her mind at the last minute, he said.

Her cell phone was used to call people connected to Matt, according to another source. It’s unclear who made the calls, when they were made or whether Mitchell knew about them.

Mitchell told investigators that Matt made her feel “special,” though she didn’t mention being in love with him, a source familiar with the investigation said.

She has cooperated with investigators and answered all their questions.

The Clinton County district attorney said his office is considering possibly charging her with felonies, including accessory to the escape and promoting prison contraband.

Hundreds searching

At least 500 law enforcement personnel, along with K9 and aviation units, are involved in the effort to find the prisoners, New York State Police said.

Authorities focused their search on a heavily wooded area off State Route 374, which was shut down Thursday until further notice. Checkpoints have come up along Dannemora east to West Plattsburgh.

Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for fatally shooting and running over Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia.

Matt held a businessman hostage for 27 hours, then tortured and killed him after he wouldn’t give him more money.

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