Prison worker who aided escape to be sentenced

Posted at 2:19 AM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 02:19:50-04

A former New York prison worker who claims she was in "way over my head" when she helped two murderers escape faces a sentence of up to seven years for her role in the audacious breakout.

Joyce Mitchell, 51, faces a sentence of 2 1/3 to seven years in prison Monday under terms of a plea deal reached with prosecutors this summer. She pleaded guilty to charges related to providing hacksaw blades and other tools to Richard Matt and David Sweat, who broke out of the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6.

The pair eluded more than 1,000 searchers who combed the thick woods and bogs of northern New York for much of the next three weeks. Matt was killed by a border agent June 26. Sweat was wounded and captured by a state trooper two days later.

Mitchell admitted to becoming close with the pair and agreed to be their getaway driver before backing out at the last moment. The two escapees were forced to scrub plans to head to Mexico and instead fled on foot after emerging from a manhole near the prison.

"I enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me and the thought of a different life," Mitchell told police.

She later told NBC news she had no doubt Matt and Sweat would have killed her if she had met them with a vehicle and a shotgun, as planned. Mitchell said the inmates' escape plan included going to the couple's home and killing her husband, Lyle, who also worked at the prison.

Mitchell suffered a panic attack the day of the escape and was taken to a hospital. She was arrested a week later and has been in jail since then.

"I would take it all back if I could, but I can't," she told NBC. "But I'm not the monster everybody thinks I am. I'm really not. I'm just somebody that got caught up in something she couldn't get out of."

Officials said the convicts used tools to cut their way out of their adjacent cells and get into the catwalk between the cell block walls. They crawled through an underground steam pipe and reached a street near the prison walls through a manhole.

Sweat, who is being housed in a solitary cell at a central New York prison, faces charges in the escape.

A prison guard, Gene Palmer, who authorities have said unwittingly abetted the escape plot, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of promoting prison contraband. Officials said he gave the two prisoners frozen hamburger meat Mitchell used to hide the hacksaw blades she smuggled to Sweat and Matt.