A guard at the maximum-security prison where two murderers busted out earlier this month allegedly gave them tools in exchange for paintings, then destroyed the artwork when he learned the killers had escaped, prosecutors charge in court documents.
Gene Palmer was arrested Wednesday night on contraband charges and other offenses for his role in the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from Clinton Correctional Facility. He was originally scheduled to be arraigned Thursday but the court appearance was delayed until Monday after the court was informed of a change in counsel.
Palmer, a guard on the block where Matt and Sweat were detained, is accused of giving them flat-head screwdrivers and needle-nose pliers on at least four occasions in exchange for Matt's artwork, according to the documents. The documents said that he made the trades, and let Sweat on a catwalk the pair later used in the escape, in exchange for the art and informton about other illegal activity at the prison.
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After the escape on June 6, Palmer is accused of burning some of the works in a fire pit at his home while burying others in the woods.
Palmer is also accused of giving the men frozen meat with tools hidden inside. The meat was allegedly given to him by Joyce Mitchell, the prison tailor shop worker accused of helping the men and agreeing to be their getaway driver following the Hollywood-style escape. Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to contraband charges.
Palmer's attorney at the time of his arrest, Andrew Brockaway, said his client had no knowledge any contraband was inside the meat.
"He did pass the hamburger meat. He shouldn't have done it. He apologized for it," said defense lawyer Andrew Brockway Wednesday night. He insisted Palmer didn't know the inmates were trying to escape.
On Thursday, however, Brockway said it was "not fair" to Palmer to continue working on his case because he did not have the resources to devote to the case.
"It is not fair to Mr. Palmer, I need to focus on all my clients. If he is innocent, why does he need a team?" he said. "It is not fair to my client, he needs a team of professionals at this time."
Palmer's new attporney, William Dryer of the Albany, New York-based firm Dryer and Boyajian, said his client "could have been misled. I would not say duped, though."
Dryer said: "We will continue evaluation and see if he is forthright. He provided them pliers, allowed them to work in the catwalk, and had paintings from Richard Matt."
Authorities say the inmates cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life in the kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in the frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed the meat in a refrigerator in the tailor shop and Palmer took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals. The district attorney said the guard didn't know the tools were inside the meat.
Brockway said Palmer continues to cooperate with investigators who are trying to track down the fugitives.
"He understands this is a public emergency, and any information that he has he will give to authorities to help capture Mr. Sweat and Mr. Matt," Brockway said.
Palmer had been placed on leave on Tuesday. At the time, his attorney told television station WPTZ he was completely forthcoming during several hours of questioning on Saturday.
"I can 100 percent confirm that he did not know they were planning on breaking out of the prison," Brockway said.
In an interview in 2000 about the prison, Palmer told North Country Public radio, "With the money that they pay you, you'll go bald, you'll have high blood pressure, you'll become an alcoholic, you'll divorce, and then you'll kill yourself."
Searchers hunting for the escaped killers Wednesday contended with steep slopes, thick woods, sticky bogs, biting bugs and the possibility that the pair on the lam from prison for 19 days is armed.
Police said they remain almost fully certain that Sweat and Matt spent time recently at a hunting camp about 20 miles west of the correctional facility near Owls Head. A hunter said he saw a figure bolting from the cabin on Saturday morning. But after days of intense searching with dogs and helicopters, police still had no substantiated sightings of Sweat and Matt.
State police Maj. Charles Guess said Wednesday authorities don't have confirmed evidence a shotgun was stolen from the hunting cabin near Owls Head but they've always assumed the escapees were armed. Weapons and ammunition are typically stored in camps, but not everyone keeps an inventory, he said.