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Hunt for escaped killers widens

David Sweat and Richard Matt
David Sweat and Richard Matt

New York state police plan to expand the search for two escaped murderers beyond a 16-square-mile area of woods, fields and swamps.

The more than 800 law enforcement officers combing the rural area now have shifted their focus eastward leading from the village of Dannemora, home of the Clinton Correctional Facility, in far northern New York state.

Inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped on June 6 from the maximum-security prison near the Canadian border.

No vehicles were reported stolen in the area, which led searchers to believe Matt and Sweat were still near the prison.

Search dogs caught the scent of the men, and authorities found evidence indicating they may have spent time there.

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said that rain has been washing away any scent dogs might find and interfering with thermal imaging devices being used to detect body heat.

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 for the kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

Meanwhile, the prison worker charged with helping the killers flee by providing them with hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools was visited in jail on Tuesday by her husband, also a prison worker.

Mr Favro described Joyce Mitchell as "composed" during the morning visit with her husband, Lyle Mitchell.

Prosecutors say Mitchell, a prison tailoring shop instructor who befriended the inmates, had agreed to be the getaway driver - but backed out because she still loved her husband and felt guilty for participating.

Prosecutor Andrew Wylie said on Monday that there was no evidence the men had a Plan B once Mitchell backed out of the escape.

But Mr Favro said that while he has "no concrete information", he doesn't believe the escapees would have counted only on Mitchell for the success of their "elaborate, well-thought-out escape plan".

"My theory - my theory only - is that she was Plan B," he said on Tuesday.

"I would have viewed her as baggage, almost, for them to be able to escape into freedom because she's leaving behind a family and a husband."

He said investigators won't be certain until the fugitives are caught.

Authorities say the convicts used power tools to cut through the backs of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall and then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole. Mr Wylie says they apparently used tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work.