NY Prisoner David Sweat Claims He and Partner Escaped Twice, Split Apart Over Alcohol, Bickering

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The New York State Police issued these "progression" photos of Richard Matt and David Sweat on June 17, 2015. Matt, 49, and Sweat, 35, escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, sometime after they were last seen at bed check June 5, 2015. The pair left decoys to trick guards into think they were asleep as they made their escape. Both were serving time on separate murder convictions.

After splitting with his prison-break partner following disputes about drinking and his inability to keep up, convicted murderer Richard Matt was eventually found lying down behind a fallen tree.

When agents with a U.S. Border Patrol special operations team came upon him last Friday afternoon, they ordered him to put up his hands. Instead, Matt aimed a 20-gauge shotgun at one agent, who shot and killed him with an M-4 rifle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Kris Grogan said in a statement.

It was an ignominious end for one of two convicts who staged a brazen escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York three weeks earlier. His demise came after apparently feuding with fellow escapee David Sweat, who 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.

Authorities said officers could smell alcohol on Matt’s body from a few feet away after he was killed.

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 June 6 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.

Mitchell 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.

Dry run

David Sweat is seen after he was detained on June 28, 2015, weeks after escaping a New York prison. (Credit: CNN)

David Sweat is seen after he was detained on June 28, 2015, weeks after escaping a New York prison. (Credit: CNN)

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 prison guards had fallen asleep, officials told CNN.

Hidden in meat

After interviewing Sweat over the past two days, state police investigators have 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 the 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.

Prison changes

The escape has prompted prison officials to beef up security.

  • Every cell at Clinton is being inspected once a week, with supervision from a senior security staff member.
  • The number of cells searched daily and randomly for contraband has tripled, with each cell being searched at least once every two months.
  • All tunnels are being inspected monthly instead of biannually.
  • The so-called “honor block,” where the escaped prisoners had been housed, has been eliminated pending further review, according to the department.

Broader corruption?

And 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.

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.