MALONE, New York — David Sweat and Richard Matt planned to head to Mexico after busting out of Clinton Correctional Facility more than three weeks ago, but had to improvise after the prison tailor accused of aiding them failed to show up to give them a ride, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, citing statements reportedly made by Sweat to investigators.
“They would kill (tailor Joyce) Mitchell’s husband, and then get in the car and drive to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them,” Cuomo told “The Capitol Pressroom” radio program. “And then they would go live happily ever after, which is a fairy tale that I wasn’t read as a child. But we all believe what we want to believe.”
Prison worker Joyce Mitchell is accused by authorities of helping Matt and Sweat in their escape.
But when Mitchell failed to show up, the pair had to improvise and instead headed north, toward Canada, Cuomo said.
According to Sweat, he and Matt were together until five days ago when Sweat said he decided to go on his own because the older inmate was slowing him down, Cuomo said.
A New York state trooper captured Sweat on Sunday after firing two shots at the fleeing escapee. Sweat, 35, is hospitalized in serious condition in Albany, the state capital.
Matt, 49, died Friday when police encountered him near Malone, New York, and fired on him.
On Sunday, New York State Police Sgt. Jay Cook spotted Sweat near a barn in the sleepy New York town of Constable. Sweat bolted, and the officer gave chase.
“At some point, running across a field, he realized that Sweat was going to make it to a tree line, and possibly could have disappeared, and he fired two shots,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico told reporters.
Sweat, who was unarmed, was struck twice in the torso. No one else was hurt.
He is being treated in a secure area at Albany Medical Center, according to a hospital official, who declined to be identified. “Multiple people” from law enforcement and hospital security are guarding him, the official said. The hospital has a security team trained to react to trauma situations to ensure the safety of both patients and staff, the official said.
Sweat’s capture meant that for the first time in more than three weeks, upstate New York residents awoke Monday to a day that wouldn’t involve navigating police roadblocks or the fear of encountering a desperate and dangerous escapee with little to lose.
“It’s just been really hard on everybody,” said Steve Lashway, who owns a meat market near Clinton Correctional Facility, the prison from which Sweat and his fellow inmate Matt escaped. “It lasted 23 days, but I think it probably felt like 23 weeks to most people.”
On Twitter, area resident Kate Messner echoed the sentiment.
“It’s been a long 23 days, but this morning, the woods just feel like woods again,” she said.
Authorities and residents praised the trooper’s actions in firing on Sweat, calling Cook a hero for bringing the escaped killer in.
His actions were appropriate, Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police told CNN’s “New Day” on Monday.
He positively identified Sweat, repeatedly commanded him to stop, engaged him in a lengthy foot chase and only shot him after coming to the conclusion he was close to disappearing behind the tree line, Guess said.
Ed Gavin, former deputy warden for the New York City Department of Corrections, agreed the trooper was justified.
“Article 35 of the (New York) penal law permits you to use deadly physical force to stop a fleeing felon who is either charged with a felony or convicted of a felony,” Gavin said. “So the police officer was spot on.”
A photo exclusively obtained by CNN shows Sweat in custody moments after his capture. He appears bloodied in the photo and is wearing a camouflage outfit, not prison garb.
“I can only assume he was going for the border, that he was that close,” D’Amico said.
It’s critically important that Sweat stay alive, officials said, so authorities can learn how he and Matt escaped — and who helped them.
But for now, “the nightmare is finally over,” Cuomo said Sunday. “We wish it didn’t happen in the first place. But if you have to have it happen, this is how you want it to end.”
Guess praised what he called the “dogged determination” among investigating agencies and a “full court press” that led to Sweat’s capture.
Bug repellent and Pop-Tarts
Not only did Sweat manage to swap his prison garb for camouflage, he also had a backpack full of supplies, the governor said.
“He had maps, he had a certain amount of tools, he had bug repellent, he had wipes, he had Pop-Tarts,” Cuomo told CNN’s “New Day.”
It’s not clear whether Sweat acquired those supplies before his escape, or if he stole or collected them while on the run.
As for Matt, an examination of his body revealed “bug bites on the lower extremities, blisters and minor abrasions consistent with living in the woods for three weeks,” state police said.
After Matt was killed, authorities could smell alcohol on his body from a few feet away, according to a law enforcement source briefed on the investigation.
Evidence suggests Matt had been ill, possibly from contaminated food or water, the source said.
Matt was dressed in dark brown pants, a dark green jacket, and heavy, dark colored boots when he was shot, Franklin County Coroner Brian Langdon told CNN.
“He was dressed for the woods,” Langdon said. “He would blend right in if he stood still.”
Matt’s clothing was not torn or ragged. Langdon recalled an odor of stale blood.
“I thought he was kind of well kept for somebody who’s been living in the woods for 20 some odd days,” Langdon said.
What’s next for Sweat
In addition to his current life sentence, Sweat will probably spend at least seven years in solitary confinement, said Jeff Dumas, a retired sergeant at Clinton Correctional Facility.
So what incentive would Sweat have have to talk to investigators? Possibly getting out of solitary confinement early, Dumas said.
“It’s a bargaining chip for him now,” he said. “Within the department, he’s going to be locked into a cell, 23 out of 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement. … He’s going to try to use that chip with New York state so he isn’t locked into 23 out of 24 (hours) for an extended period of time.”
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said authorities want to learn how Sweat escaped and survived while on the run. But he seemed to limit the prospect of a plea bargain on escape charges in return for those details.
“There’s certainly no plea bargain that we could put out there,” Wylie told CNN. “The Department of Corrections obviously wants information; they want answers as well relative to how this escape occurred. So on that end, whatever benefit that may be for David Sweat, only the time will tell.”
Sweat might not have an incentive to tell the truth. Dumas said.
“That’s what you have to worry about — what’s in it for him?” Dumas said. “We will see if this guy is narcissistic, if he has that type of ego that he wants to display everything that he’s done and actually tell the truth, or if he’s going to mislead investigators and just play a game to entertain himself while he’s locked in.”
Relief all around
Both Sweat’s mother and the family of his murder victim expressed relief after the killer’s capture.
Sweat was serving a life sentence for the gruesome death of Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002.
“To have someone you loved be ambushed, shot 15 times and then run over with a car simply for stopping to check unusual activity in a town park … is a pain that no one can understand if you have not been through it first hand,” Tarsia’s relatives said in a statement Sunday night.
They thanked the 1,300-plus law enforcement officers who have searched for Sweat and Matt.
“We are eternally grateful for the hard work and long hours that they have put in, and so thankful that no innocent persons were hurt in this hunt.”
Even Sweat’s mother was relieved after her son’s capture.
“I was just hoping that he would turn himself in,” Pamela Sweat told Time Warner Cable News. “We started crying because (he) wasn’t killed.”
And area residents can walk outside their homes now without the fear that one of the escapees might be hiding.
“We were so nervous, we’ve had our houses locked down,” said Constable resident Audra Buchanan, who hadn’t let her 9-year-old daughter go out to play.
What went wrong
Matt and Sweat used power tools to carve their way out of the Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6.
Mitchell, the prison tailor who has been charged with aiding the escapees, has admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat, a law enforcement official said last week.
The two inmates had received special privileges for good behavior, such as having hot plates and refrigerators in their cells.
But even months before the escape, the official said, Mitchell used baked goods to win favors for Matt and Sweat — including asking one guard to pass frozen hamburger meat to Matt, bypassing the prison’s metal detector in a violation of policy.
Gene Palmer, a guard on the honor block where Matt and Sweat were housed, was arrested and charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, destroying evidence and official misconduct.
He appeared in court Monday and waived any more hearings in Plattsburgh Justice Court. The case will now go to a grand jury in Clinton County Court.
After the hearing, District Attorney Andrew Wylie said he may wait up to a month to schedule a new court date since a new attorney is representing Palmer. Wylie also said that Sweat reportedly told investigators that Palmer was not involved in Sweat’s escape.
“From what I understand, in reviewing the reports today, he (Sweat) told investigators that Palmer had no involvement in the escape. It was just Mitchell, he and Matt,” he said.
Palmer’s attorney, William Dreyer, told CNN his client would plead not guilty to the charges. No plea was entered in court on Monday.
Palmer’s previous attorney had said Palmer was unaware of the meat’s contents when he was asked to get it to Matt.
And there may be more prison employees under scrutiny.
The FBI has launched an investigation into possible broader corruption at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, law enforcement officials briefed on the probe told CNN on Monday.
The probe is looking into possible drug trafficking and other criminal behavior among prison employees and inmates, the officials said. Some employees interviewed have told investigators about heroin use among prisoners, and the role of employees in the drug trade.
Separately, investigators have been questioning guards about what conversations they had with the escapees about life outside the prison, according to a law enforcement official.
They believe Sweat and Matt had gathered information for almost a year about hunting cabins and the fields around the prison to help them navigate the terrain.