After prison escape, David Sweat and Richard Matt bickered over booze, agility
NEW YORK — After a film-worthy escape from an upstate New York prison, it came down to booze and agility for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt.
Sweat told investigators Matt was out of shape and hitting the bottle too hard after they broke into a cabin while on the run.
The discord prompted the fugitives to split up, he said, according to a law enforcement official briefed on Sweat’s interviews with investigators.
Matt was fatally shot Friday, nearly three weeks after their June 6 escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility.
Authorities said officers could smell alcohol on his body from a few feet away after a border patrol agent killed him.
Captured days later
Two days later, an officer shot and wounded Sweat less than two miles from the Canadian border.
From his hospital bed in Albany, he has spilled baffling details about the prison break and their time on the run.
Sweat and Matt pulled off the escape not once, but twice, he told investigators.
While authorities initially spoke of the possible use of power tools in the escape, Sweat has said they found a sledgehammer in an underground passageway.
It was probably left behind inadvertently by a construction worker, according to the law enforcement official. The men supposedly used the sledgehammer to break down a brick wall on their way out of the maximum security prison, the official said.
Sweat also 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.
During their time as fugitives, they had several close calls as authorities closed in, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said. While hiding in the hunting cabin, they heard voices nearby at one point.
And after the pair split up, Wylie said, Sweat saw a law enforcement officer walk right by him as he hid in a tree stand used by hunters.
He said, she said
Officials said the two had originally planned to come out of a manhole and meet prison tailor Joyce 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 her attorney denied that accusation Wednesday.
And Mitchell has also told authorities that Matt and Sweat hatched the plan to kill her husband.
The night of the escape, Mitchell did not show up, forcing the fugitives to improvise on the run for more than three weeks.
Sweat said the plot to break out of prison started in January, Wylie said.
After five months of hashing out strategies, they made a practice run.
One night before 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 said.
The state inspector general’s office is looking into whether guards had fallen asleep, officials told CNN.
Hidden in meat
After interviewing Sweat over the past two days, state police investigators had no plans for now to speak with him further, spokesman Beau Duffy said.
Duffy said Sweat will be turned over to the corrections department after his release from hospital. Sweat is listed in fair condition and is expected to remain at Albany Medical Center for 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 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.
But the investigation extends beyond Mitchell and Palmer.
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.
A total of 12 prison employees have been put on administrative leave.
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 told investigators that there was heroin use among prisoners and an alleged drug trade involving employees.