Prison worker who helped 2 killers escape gets up to 7 years

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — A former prison worker who said she was in “way over” her head when she helped two murderers escape from a maximum-security lockup by providing them with tools was sentenced Monday to up to seven years behind bars.

FILE - In this July 28, 2015 file photo, Joyce Mitchell raises her hand during a court appearance in Plattsburgh, N.Y.  Mitchell, the former New York prison employee who helped two killers escape from a maximum-security prison in June, said in an interview that aired Monday, Sept. 14, on NBC's "Today" show that she was depressed at the time and the inmates took advantage of what she called her "weakness." (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP, Pool, File)
FILE – In this July 28, 2015 file photo, Joyce Mitchell raises her hand during a court appearance in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Mitchell, the former New York prison employee who helped two killers escape from a maximum-security prison in June, said in an interview that aired Monday, Sept. 14, on NBC’s “Today” show that she was depressed at the time and the inmates took advantage of what she called her “weakness.” (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP, Pool, File)

Joyce Mitchell, 51, wept and apologized as she was sentenced to 2 1/3 to seven years in prison under terms of a plea deal reached with prosecutors this summer. The judge also set a November hearing on the state’s claim for about $120,000 in restitution from Mitchell.

Mitchell entered the courtroom in tears and continued to cry through most of the 35-minute sentencing, and even removed her glasses to wipe her eyes.

She apologized to the community, her former co-workers and the law enforcement officers for the weeks of fear, disruption and inconvenience the search caused.

“If I could take it all back, I would,” she told the judge. “I never intended for any of this to happen.”

Mitchell had pleaded guilty to charges related to providing hacksaw blades and other tools to Richard Matt and David Sweat, who broke out of the 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 becoming close with the pair, and she agreed to be their getaway driver before backing out. 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.

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.

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.

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