Fugitive Murderers Did Dry Run Night Before Daring Escape, Captured Prisoner Tells Investigators

The murderers who escaped an upstate New York prison earlier this month, sparking a weeks-long, multi-agency manhunt, conducted a dry run the night before their escape and then had numerous close calls with law enforcement while they were on the lam, according to an official. 

David Sweat, the escapee who was captured alive two days ago after a trooper shot him as he was running in the woods, has told investigators he and fellow fugitive Richard Matt conducted a dry run the night before their escape, according to Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie. 

The two popped a manhole and got a look outside during the dry run, Wylie told NBC News in an interview. They never actually got out.

At one point during their escape, Sweat and Matt physically got very close to a sheriff's deputy, and Matt, surprised, fell backwards and made a noise. But the two were unnoticed. 

There were other close calls with police, Sweat said. At one point, Sweat thought he and Matt were surrounded by border patrol agents but still managed to elude them, he told investigators. 

Sweat's statements to law enforcement are providing new details on how the escape happened, where they went after they escaped and how the plot came together.

Meanwhile, a dozen workers at the prison have been placed on leave, and law enforcement sources now say a federal probe into the prison has become a public corruption investigation involving possible drug trafficking.

The state Department of Corrections said three members of the prison's executive team and nine correctional officers at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora will be on leave as part of the investigation into the June 6 escape by Matt and Sweat. 

The prison's superintendent, Stephen Racette, and his top deputy are among those on leave, sources familiar with the investigation tell NBC News. The Corrections Department has assigned an interim superintendent to the prison.

Law enforcement sources tell NBC News the investigation will also examine whether prison employees and officers brought heroin into the facility to be trafficked among the inmates. The investigation was sparked during the FBI's involvement in the escape and manhunt. 

One official told NBC News: "We started asking questions and people started talking. Next thing you know, we started developing leads." 

The sources said they've been told about the sales of heroin by inmates and the money those sales generated for the prisoners, NBC News reports. They said they'll look into whether those funds were used by Matt and Sweat to help fund or facilitate the escape. 

That part of the investigation is still in its early stages. 

Two other prison employees, tailor shop worker Joyce Mitchell and corrections officer Gary Palmer, have been arrested for their roles in the Hollywood-style breakout.

Mitchell, who sources have said was romantically involved with at least one of the inmates, allegedly smuggled tools into the prison for the men and had planned on being their getaway driver.

Palmer, meanwhile, is accused of trading tools in exchange for Matt's artwork and information about criminal activities at the prison. He also allegedly brought the inmates raw meat that Mitchell had hidden tools in.

Matt and Sweat sawed their way out of the prison early on June 6, setting off a massive, 23-day search effort centered in the small, remote towns surrounding the prison near the Canadian border.

Matt was shot and killed by police on Friday and Sweat was shot and captured on Sunday near the Canadian border. 

Sweat, who is recovering at an Albany area hospital and whose condition was upgraded to fair Tuesday, told investigators that the pair had intended to go to Mexico with Mitchell and had planned to kill the woman's husband, also a prison employee, authorities have said. When Mitchell -- who authorities said got cold feet the night of the escape -- didn't show up, Sweat said they made their way toward Canada. 

Sweat, who was found with pop tarts, bug spray, maps, tools and pepper, said that he and Matt split up about five days before his capture because Matt was slowing him down.

Sweat had been serving a sentence of life without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy in Broome County in 2002. He is expected to face additional charges in connection with the escape.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss in western New York.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us