Employee Accused of Helping Escaped Killers Was Investigated for Sexual Incident at Prison: Sources

The tailor shop instructor who "thought it was love" with one of the two murderers she's accused of helping escape from the maximum-security prison where she worked was investigated for a sexual incident with the other convicted killer before the men busted out of the upstate New York institution, sources familiar with the investigation tell NBC News.

Joyce Mitchell was investigated after a sexual incident with David Sweat in the months before Sweat and Richard Matt broke out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, sources say. While she was being investigated for the incident, Matt allegedly charmed Mitchell into his affection.

Authorities are also now investigating allegations that Mitchell may have wanted Sweat and Matt to kill her husband and fellow prison employee Lyle Mitchell, a senior law enforcement official told NBC News Monday. 

Mitchell, who was arrested Friday on contraband charges, appeared in court Monday in shackles but didn't enter a plea on either of the charges against her. She's accused of supplying the men with hacksaws, drill bits and other tools to help them with the escape.

Authorities say that the woman was also supposed to be the pair's getaway driver, but didn't pick them up at a prison power plant because she "got cold feet." She checked herself into the hospital the day of the escape with a "case of the nerves."

District Attorney Andrew Wylie said that she backed out because she still loved her husband.

"Basically, when it was go-time and it was the actual day of the event, I do think she got cold feet and realized, 'What am I doing?'" Wylie said. "Reality struck. She realized that, really, the grass wasn't greener on the other side."

Wylie told NBC News in an interview Monday afternoon that he had "no comment" on a plot to kill Lyle Mitchell, who has retained legal counsel. 

Joyce Mitchell has been suspended without pay from her $57,000-a-year job overseeing inmates who sew Metro-North uniforms and learn how to repair sewing machines.

The court appearance comes as the search for Matt and Sweat enters its 10th day. More than 800 officers are expected to comb the area around the prison 20 miles from the Canadian border in efforts to find the killers.

Authorities say that they think that the two men are still near the prison because there was no "Plan B" once Mitchell backed out, and no vehicles have been reported stolen in the area.

Wylie said Sunday that the killers apparently cut their way out using tools stored by prison contractors, taking care to return them to their toolboxes after each night's work.

"They had access, from what we understand, to other tools left in the facility by contractors under policy and were able to open the toolboxes and use those tools and then put them back so nobody would notice," he said.

The convicts used power tools to cut through the back of their adjacent cells, broke through a brick wall, then cut into a steam pipe and slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole, authorities said. Sources tell NBC News the men left taunting post-it notes throughout the escape route similar to the one they left on the pipe the sliced through to escape the prison.

Workers on Sunday welded shut a manhole at the base of a wall on the side of the prison where the two men escaped. They also sealed two other manholes on the street near the prison, including the one from which the convicts climbed out.

More than 800 law enforcement officers went door-to-door over the weekend and combed the rural area signs of the escapees. Residents were very much on edge, with some saying they were keeping guns handy. But there was also an outpouring of support for the search effort. A restaurant urged people to tie blue ribbons around trees and mailboxes.

"The locals have been awesome," said Sgt. Barry Cartier of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, part of a crew from a neighboring county working 12-hour shifts. "They come around with food all the time. We've got too much to eat."

Police said they were working with the Saranac Central School District to determine whether school would be in session Monday. There will be an enhanced law enforcement presence on school campuses between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and all outdoor activities were suspended until further notice.

Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

He was also convicted of stabbing a man to death in Mexico, and had escaped from prison in 1986. During his trial for the 1997 killing, he was deemed so dangerous that snipers were stationed atop buildings near the courthouse.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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