**UPDATE:  Joyce Mitchell, the New York prison worker, who authorities said may have aided a pair of escaped convicted murderers who are still at large, will be arraigned on providing them with material assistance, according to Clinton County Sheriff David Favro.  Mitchell cooperated with investigators and provided them with information.  Her husband and prison co-worker, Lyle Mitchell, is also under investigation. **

Almost as soon as guards discovered that the two convicted murderers had broken out of the maximum-security upstate New York prison, they suspected someone helped them.  The tools they used, the knowledge they had of the prison layout, Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, couldn’t have done it alone.  Officials suspect Joyce Mitchell, 51, helped the escapees.  Mitchell is a civilian employee at the Clinton Correctional Facility.  Her job was teaching inmates how to tailor clothing.  Unnamed sources told media outlets that internal investigations have shown that Mitchell’s cell phone was used to call numerous people who were connected to Matt. It’s not clear who made the calls, when they were made, or if Mitchell was even aware of them.

Another unnamed source said that investigators believe Mitchell was supposed to pick the two men up after they’d cleared the prison grounds, but she changed her mind.  Instead, Mitchell went to the hospital suffering from chest pains and a severe panic attack. Mitchell has not been charged or named as an official suspect and is fully cooperating with the investigation.

Mitchell has worked at the prison for 7 years as an industrial training supervisor. Her son, Tobey Mitchell, said that the assertions that his mother did anything wrong and that she helped two horrible men escape is nonsense.  “She is not the kind of person that’s going to risk her life or other people’s lives to let these guys escape from prison.”

Her daughter-in-law, Paige, told CNN that “95%” of what is being reported is false. 

“This is just slander and rumor.”

Paige went on to say that Matt may have persuaded her mother-in-law to contact people he knew, but “her heart was in the right place.”  She denied that her mother-in-law was to be the getaway driver or that she helped provide the power tools they used to cut their way out of prison. Mitchell’s husband also works at the prison.

NY State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said that authorities are looking “behind every tree, under every rock and inside every structure” in the manhunt that has now expanded to Vermont.  D’Amico said that the pair befriended Mitchell and that she “may have had some sort of role”.

There have been two possible sightings.  The first came from Dannemora about 5 hours after authorities discovered during an early morning bed check that the men had escaped.  A resident told the media that he confronted two men, he didn’t know, but now he believes they are Matt and Sweat, walking in his yard.  He told them to leave.  One of the men was carrying a guitar case.  40 miles southeast, a resident spotted two men overnight walking in torrential rainstorms on a rural road near some farms.  A resident approached them in a vehicle and they fled into a nearby field. Both reports could be false leads, as is normal for manhunts. Authorities are focusing on the rural area of New York near Vermont and the Canadian border province of Quebec.

“If members of the public see anything unusual upon arriving at their residence or seasonal homes, they are asked to contact law enforcement immediately,” the New York State Police said Wednesday, “The State Police have deployed all available assets in an effort to ensure the safety of the public.”

If the escapees had an accomplice that did not follow through, they would have been left without a getaway car when they emerged from the prison.

“That must have been just a complete panic on their part … ‘Now what? Where are we going to walk to — this small, rural area?’ ” said CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director. “It’s going to be hard to hide day or night for very long, and they wouldn’t have been prepared to deal with the elements.”

“That would put every family in that rural (area) in extreme danger,” Fuentes said.

Jeff Hall, who teaches at the City University of New York and did his dissertation on northern New York prisons said, “The environment is formidable.  It’s rough terrain and, if you’re not familiar with it, it can be deadly.” Matt and Sweat somehow obtained power tools, they cut through their cell wall, which included a steel plate, maneuvered along a catwalk between the walls, shimmied down six stories to a tunnel of pipes.  They followed the tunnel, broke through a brick wall and then cut into a 24” steam pipe.  They crawled through the steam pipe, cut another hole to get out of the pipe and surfaced through a manhole. Beyond the mystery of how the pair received and concealed power tools, is how they concealed the sounds of the cutting?  Which is something that Sharon Tarsia, the sister of Sweat’s victim, is wondering.  Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for fatally shooting then running over Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002.  Sweat and an accomplice had robbed a gun store when Tarsia confronted them.  Kevin Tarsia’s brother Steven said that he wanted Sweat’s life to be “miserable and awful”.

Matt was convicted of kidnapping and killing businessman, William Rickerson, in 1997.  The businessman was kept for 27 hours by Matt and his accomplice, but refused to comply with the ransom.  Matt had worked for Rickerson, but was fired for poor job performance just a few weeks before the murder.

“Torture is probably an understatement,” Lee Bates.

Bates said that Matt shoved a knife sharpener in the victim’s ear, broke his neck, and dismembered him.  Matt also beat the man with his fists in an attempt to get him to give them money.  Bates who drove the car when they kidnapped Rickerson testified against Matt in 2008.  Bates said that he is afraid that Matt may seek revenge on him.

“He is a very cunning and dangerous individual…He can make friends easily.  He’s a master manipulator,” said Bates.

Bates served 15 years for second-degree murder in the Rickerson case. Matt had fled to Mexico before his trial for Rickerson’s murder.  While there, he was accused of murdering a man outside a bar in Matamoros, Mexico.  He served 9 years, before he was sent to the U.S. to stand trial for Rickerson’s murder.  However, Matt’s attorney said that he never received a trial in Mexico. In addition, this isn’t the first time Matt has escaped.  Matt escaped in 1986.  He was free for 4 days before he was recaptured.  Detective Gabriel DiBernardo, who investigated Rickerson’s kidnapping and murder, said he wasn’t surprised and believed that Matt probably had more to do with the plan than Sweat did. The two men kept a low profile while imprisoned.  They mostly had good behavior and were placed in what is called the “honor block”.  They had adjoining cells.


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