Correction Officer Charged in Murderers' Prison Escape Appears in Court

The maximum-security upstate New York correction officer charged in the prison escape of two convicted murderers who were captured -- one dead, one alive -- after a weeks-long manhunt that sent law enforcement officers through miles of difficult terrain appeared in court Monday.

Gene Palmer has been charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. He pleaded not guilty at a brief hearing through his attorney.

Officials said Palmer gave Richard Matt and David Sweat frozen hamburger meat that prison tailoring shop instructor Joyce Mitchell allegedly used to hide the tools she smuggled to the prisoners.

Palmer's attorney said he had no knowledge that the meat contained hacksaw blades, a bit and a screwdriver, and prosecutors have said they have no reason to believe he was a willing accomplice.

Authorities have said Palmer traded the men meat for artwork, which he burned after their escape.

Mitchell has also been charged in the "Shawshank Redemption"-style breakout. Prosecutors allege the tailor shop worker got close to the men while working with them and had agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out because she felt guilty for participating in the escape. Authorities also said Mitchell had discussed killing her husband as part of the plot.

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

On Monday, Gov. Cuomo told WCNY's Capitol Pressroom Monday the killers had originally planned to flee to Mexico with Mitchell. Then she failed to show up, leaving the men to flee on foot. 

Escapee Matt was killed in a confrontation with law enforcement on Friday, three weeks after the June 26 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. Sweat, 35, was shot by a New  York state trooper near the Canadian Border Sunday and was listed in serious condition at an Albany hospital Monday afternoon. 

Dennis McKenna, the medical director at Albany Medical Center, where Sweat was flown Sunday night, said the captured killer's condition was upgraded to serious late Monday morning. Sweat's condition has been up and down -- vacillating from stable to critical and now to serious -- in the hours since he was shot twice in the torso by the state trooper conducting a ground search. 

Sweat will remain at Albany Medical Center for a few days while his condition stabilizes, McKenna said. He underwent diagnostic evaluations and doctors determined he does not need any surgeries. 

Cuomo said Sweat had a bag containing maps, tools, bug repellent and Pop Tarts when he was shot twice by Sgt. Jay Cook on Sunday afternoon in a farm field less than two miles from the border in Constable, New York. He faces first-degree escape charges, authorities said.

The daring escape from Clinton Correctional Facility was "done with facilitators, it was done with cooperators," Cuomo said.

"This was 'Cool Hand Luke' meets 'Shawshank Redemption," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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