Visibly Injured, Recaptured Prison Escapee Appears in Court

Convicted murderer David Sweat was back in a Plattsburgh, New York courtroom Thursday, facing new charges related to June's brazen prison break from the maximum-security facility in Dannemora.

In his first court appearance since his capture, Sweat was charged with two felony counts of escape, both relating to the same incident, and one felony count of having contraband in prison. The contraband was hacksaw blades found in a sewer pipe through which Sweat fled after carving his way out of his cell, prosecutors said.

After Sweat's court-appointed defense attorney declined to enter a plea on his client's behalf, Judge Patrick McGill entered a not guilty plea for Sweat. Such a move from the court is customary in a situation like this.

Sweat wore a green prison jumpsuit and had his arm in a sling, because he is still healing from two gunshots fired by a New York State Trooper before Sweat was captured in Constable, New York in late June.

Defense attorney Joe Mucia said any decision to change the not guilty plea would be his client's. Mucia noted he met Sweat for the first time Thursday morning, shortly before the hearing.

"I was expecting a different type of personality," Mucia told reporters. "He was much more subdued than I thought he was going to be."

For three long weeks in June, the hunt for Sweat and another murderer, Richard Matt, whom authorities shot and killed, gripped northern New York in fear. It prompted alerts and extra patrols in nearby Vermont, too.

Matt had been serving time for killing his former boss and dismembering him.

Reporters asked Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie why he chose to bring more charges against Sweat, when he's back behind bars anyway; back to his life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy in 2002.

"It's my job as the prosecutor in this county to prosecute people who commit crimes in this county," Wylie answered. "And that's the bottom line. He committed a crime in this county and I'm prosecuting him for that."

Wylie revealed talks have been reopened with the attorney for correctional officer Gene Palmer, who has been accused of slipping the inmates, even if unwittingly, hacksaw blades to aid their escape. Wylie said those talks could resolve the Palmer case without trial.

Previously, attorneys for Palmer declined overtures for negotiations in a plea deal, Wylie said in July.

Prison worker Joyce Mitchell, who knew the men from her job as a prison tailor shop instructor, already confessed to hiding those blades in hamburger meat, which the inmates were allowed to cook in their cells. Sweat and Matt had been housed in a prison "honor block" in Dannemora because of their good behavior behind bars.

Mitchell's attorney said last month she fell for the inmates' charms and got in way over her head. Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced in late September.

Wylie said David Sweat now spends 23 hours a day in his cell in the Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, New York, in a special housing unit. Additional convictions could keep restrictions on Sweat extra tight, the prosecutor noted. 

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