Gov. Cuomo: Inmates had sights on Mexico but ride backed out

Police stand over David Sweat after he was shot and captured near the Canadian border Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Constable, N.Y. Sweat is the second of two convicted murderers who staged a brazen escape three weeks ago from a maximum-security prison in northern New York. His capture came two days after his escape partner, Richard Matt, was shot and killed by authorities. (AP Photo)

MALONE, N.Y. (AP) — Two convicted murderers who escaped from prison and eluded a massive manhunt for three weeks had initially planned to drive to Mexico but headed toward Canada on foot when their ride backed out, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

David Sweat, 35, was running from a state trooper Sunday afternoon when he was shot twice in the torso less than 2 miles from the Canadian border. Sweat was in serious condition Monday at a hospital.

Cuomo told the Capitol Pressroom radio program that Sweat was starting to relay information to police about his escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6 with fellow inmate Richard Matt, who was killed Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors have said prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell got close to the men and agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out because she felt guilty for participating in the escape. Cuomo provided new details Monday.

“They would kill Mitchell’s husband and then get in the car and drive to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them,” Cuomo said. “When Mitchell doesn’t show up, the Mexico plan gets foiled, and they head north toward Canada.”

Matt had previously spent time in Mexico.

Cuomo said the two men split up about five days ago. Matt had blisters on his feet and Sweat felt his 49-year-old escape partner was slowing him down, Cuomo said.

After Sweat was shot, he was arrested, stabilized at a nearby hospital in Malone and then airlifted to the trauma center at Albany Medical Center.

Sweat was upgraded from critical to serious condition after doctors determined overnight that he didn’t need immediate surgery. He’s expected to stay at the hospital for a few days while his condition stabilizes, according to hospital officials.

Cuomo told CNN that Sweat had a bag containing maps, tools, bug repellent and Pop Tarts when he was shot by Sgt. Jay Cook in a farm field in Constable, about 30 miles northwest of the prison. Sweat was unarmed at the time.

Matt was killed Friday afternoon in Malone, just south of Constable, while holding a shotgun.

Sweat had been serving a sentence of life without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss.

The prisoners used power tools to saw through a steel cell wall and several steel steam pipes, bashed a hole through a 2-foot-thick brick wall, squirmed through pipes and emerged from a manhole outside the prison. On a cut steam pipe, the prisoners left a taunting note containing a crude caricature of an Asian face and the words “Have a nice day.”

Mitchell and another prison worker have been charged with helping them.

Clinton correction officer Gene Palmer, charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct, is due in court Monday. His attorney has said he will plead not guilty.

Officials said Palmer gave the two prisoners frozen hamburger meat that Mitchell had used to hide the tools she smuggled to Sweat and Matt. Palmer’s attorney said he had no knowledge that the meat contained hacksaw blades, a bit and a screwdriver.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty June 15 to charges including felony promoting prison contraband.

Sweat’s capture ended an ordeal that sent 1,300 law enforcement officers into the thickly forested northern reaches of New York and kept residents on edge for weeks.

“The nightmare is finally over,” Cuomo declared at a Sunday news conference.

Cook, a 21-year veteran, was alone and on routine patrol when he stumbled upon Sweat. He gave chase when Sweat fled and decided to fire fearing he would lose Sweat in the trees, state police said.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said the men may have used black pepper to throw off their scent from the dogs that were tracking them; he said Sweat’s DNA was recovered from pepper shakers found at one camp.

Sweat will be charged with escape, burglary and other charges, said Andrew Wylie, Clinton County district attorney. He and Matt are suspected of breaking into some of the region’s many cabins during their time on the lam. Wylie said prosecutors would wait for Sweat to recover before charging him.

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Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, and Deepti Hajela in New York City contributed to this report.

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