A former instructor in a prison tailor shop who taught inmates how to sew pled guilty Tuesday to two charges connected to last month's escape of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat. The pair carved their way through the walls of their cells and tunneled through a sewer pipe under the walls of the maximum-security prison in Dannemora, New York, investigators said.
Joyce Mitchell admitted to promoting prison contraband by smuggling tools to the inmates, including hacksaw blades. She also pled guilty to facilitating criminal acts. Her admissions paved the way for a sentence ranging from just over two years in prison to up to seven years in prison, prosecutors said.
"She was swept off her feet a bit," said defense attorney Stephen Johnston, noting how he believes his client fell prey to sweet talking and flattery from convicted murderer Richard Matt, which made her feel good. "She got in over her head into something she never should've started, but she did and she's paying the price now. She realizes she made a horrible mistake."
Prosecutors said the contraband enabled Matt and Sweat to punch their way out of their cells toward freedom June 6, sparking one of the largest manhunts the nation has seen.
Originally, investigators said Mitchell agreed to be the duo's getaway driver, but backed out. With no wheels, the escapees hid in the woods of New York until law enforcement killed Matt and captured Sweat after more than three weeks on the run.
Despite warnings police issued to the public about the serious risks posed by the desperate and violent men during their time on the run, the escapees did not injure anyone else.
A sentencing hearing for Joyce Mitchell has been scheduled for late September.
"I feel that we resolved this in the best light possible," said Andrew Wylie, the district attorney for Clinton County, New York.
Wylie agreed to not charge Mitchell with having sexual contact with either of the escapees, or with plotting with Matt and Sweat to kill her husband. Those allegations from early in the prison break investigation would be very tough to prove, the prosecutor acknowledged.
Lyle Mitchell, the husband of Joyce Mitchell, told necn he supports his wife "100 percent," later adding that he still loves her.
Mitchell visited his wife in jail Tuesday afternoon, but would not share with reporters how their meeting went.
Wylie said corrections officer Gene Palmer, who was also charged in the case, refused a plea agreement. Wylie previously said Palmer aided in the break-out by being derelict in his duties and not checking frozen hamburger meat for tools hidden inside. Joyce Mitchell placed the tools in the meat and had Palmer give it to Matt and Sweat, who had special privileges due to their good behavior in prison, including the privilege of cooking in their cells.
Wylie said he will present his case against Palmer to a grand jury next month.
Last month, a lawyer for Palmer said his client had absolutely no idea Matt and Sweat were plotting an escape, and said his client is a good man who cares about the safety of his community.
Wylie also told reporters he plans to present his prison escape case against David Sweat soon. Sweat is now in a different prison under strict monitoring, New York law enforcement officials have said.
A dozen other correctional officers and administrators from the Dannemora facility were placed on administrative leave pending a high-level state investigation into operations at the prison. Wylie said neither Mitchell nor Sweat has implicated any of those other workers in playing a part in the escape.