NEW YORK — After convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt pulled off their brazen escape from an upstate New York prison, their relationship quickly began to sour, according to a law enforcement official briefed on Sweat’s interviews with investigators.
Sweat has told investigators that Matt, who was fatally shot last week, was out of shape and unable to keep up with him, the law enforcement official told CNN on Wednesday.
In particular, Sweat told investigators, he was irked that the older man began getting drunk after they broke into a cabin, the official said. The discord prompted the fugitives to split up.
After a border patrol agent caught up with and killed Matt on Friday, authorities said officers could smell alcohol on his body from a few feet away, according to a law enforcement source briefed on the investigation.
From his hospital bed in Albany, Sweat has been revealing details about the prison break that seems to baffle almost everyone — except himself.
Sweat and Matt pulled off the sensational escape not once, but twice, the inmate told investigators.
Through it all, Sweat was the mastermind, or at least that’s what he’s telling authorities, a local district attorney said.
And while authorities initially spoke of the possible use of power tools in the escape, Sweat has said that he and Matt actually found a sledgehammer in an underground passageway. It was probably left behind inadvertently by a construction worker, according to the law enforcement official briefed on his interviews.
The men supposedly used the sledgehammer to break down a brick wall on their way out of the maximum security prison, the official said.
An escape before the escape
Sweat said the plot to break out of Clinton Correctional Facility actually started in January, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told CNN.
After five months of hashing out strategies, Sweat and Matt made a practice run.
One night before prison tailor Joyce Mitchell was supposed to meet them at a manhole, Sweat and Matt escaped from their cells, a New York state official said.
They navigated a maze of tunnels and pipes before popping out of a manhole. But Sweat said they saw too many houses near that manhole and decided to try for a different one the next night, Wylie told NBC News.
“To make a dry run and … have the ability to escape, and then go back in, it is a little baffling,” he said.
So why didn’t the guards notice? It’s not clear, but the state inspector general’s office has been looking into whether guards had fallen asleep, officials told CNN.
Speculation has raged over what power tools the pair used, but Sweat told investigators that he and Matt used only hacksaws to cut through their cell walls and a steam pipe inside the prison, the district attorney told CNN.
After interviewing Sweat for several hours over the past two days, state police investigators had no plans for now to speak with him further, spokesman Beau Duffy said.
Duffy did not have information on where Sweat will go once he’s released but said he will be turned over to the corrections department. Sweat is listed in fair condition and is expected to remain at Albany Medical Center for at least a few more days, according to the hospital.
Mitchell, the prison tailor, has admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat and then having the meat delivered to Matt, a law enforcement official said last week.
She has been arrested and charged with promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation.
Another employee, Gene Palmer, is accused of taking the meat to the inmates. He’s charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, two counts of destroying evidence and one count of official misconduct.
A dozen prison employees put on leave
But the investigation extends beyond Mitchell and Palmer — and well beyond the escape.
Three members of the prison’s executive team, along with nine security staff employees, have been placed on paid administrative leave as part of the review of the escape, said the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Superintendent Steven Racette and Deputy Superintendent Stephen Brown are among the executives on leave, a state official told CNN on Tuesday. The other is First Deputy Superintendent Donald Quinn, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Michael Kirkpatrick, a former first deputy superintendent of the Elmira Correctional Facility and head of the Corrections Emergency Response Team, on Wednesday was named the new superintendent of the Clinton Correctional Facility.
Since the escape, other measures have been taken:
— Every cell at Clinton is being inspected once a week, with supervision from a senior security staff member.
— The number of cells searched daily and randomly for contraband has tripled, with each cell being searched at least once every two months.
— All tunnels are being inspected monthly instead of biannually.
— The so-called “honor block,” where the escaped prisoners had been housed, has been eliminated pending further review, according to the department.
The FBI is investigating possible broader corruption at the prison, law enforcement officials briefed on the case said. Agents are looking into whether drug trafficking or other criminal behavior among employees and inmates took place, officials said.
Some employees who have been questioned told investigators that there was heroin use among prisoners and an alleged drug trade involving employees.
How the plan derailed
According to Sweat, officials said, this is how the plan was supposed to play out:
Sweat and Matt would come out of a manhole and meet Mitchell, who would drive them away. The convicted murderers would then kill Mitchell’s husband, Lyle, before fleeing to Mexico.
Sweat has told investigators that it was Mitchell’s idea for them to kill her husband, according to the law enforcement official briefed on his interviews. But she has told authorities that Matt and Sweat hatched the plan to kill her husband.
In his interview, Sweat also denied any sexual contact with Joyce Mitchell and said it was Matt who had a sexual relationship with her, officials said.
Authorities have said that Matt had a sexual relationship with Mitchell, and that she had been investigated in the past for an inappropriate relationship with Sweat that led corrections officials to move him out of the tailor shop where she worked.
The night of the escape, Mitchell did not show up, forcing the fugitives to improvise on the run for more than three weeks.
Police caught up with and killed Matt on Friday. Two days later, an officer shot and wounded Sweat less than two miles from the Canadian border.
Sweat told investigators that he was upset when he learned that Matt had been killed and decided to try to make it to Canada, the official said.
Matt’s family members at first had said they wouldn’t claim his body, but they changed their minds, Franklin County Coroner Brian Langdon told CNN.
Langdon believes the body will be turned over to Matt’s son.
The Heald Funeral Home in Plattsburgh will handle the body’s transfer, Langdon said.
Matt’s body is at Alice Hyde Medical Center’s morgue in Malone.
Mitchell’s husband ‘still in love with her’
Never mind that Sweat, Matt and Mitchell allegedly planned to have Mitchell’s husband killed before they drove off to Mexico — Lyle Mitchell still loves his wife.
After all, Joyce Mitchell bailed on the plan to serve as the escapees’ getaway driver, Lyle Mitchell’s attorney told CNN.
“In a way, he’s looking at it like Joyce saved his life that night by not picking them up,” attorney Peter Dumas said. “He’s still in love with her, to put it bluntly. And I think he plans on waiting for her.”