Palmer Pleads Guilty In Prison Break, Resigns
The last of the court proceedings in Clinton County dealing with the escape of David Sweat and Richard Matt from the maximum security Clinton Correctional facility last June was settled this morning. In the end, one inmate is dead, one is back behind bars, and two former prison employees have been sentenced to jail time.Former corrections officer Gene Palmer appeared in court Monday morning to be sentenced under the conditions of a plea agreement. Palmer was originally charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor. The agreement changes it to one felony and two misdemeanors.
Palmer’s charges relate to bringing hamburger meat concealing a hacksaw blade and for bringing a screwdriver and a pair of needle nose pliers into the facility. He also destroyed paintings he had received from Richard Matt in exchange for buying the inmate paint and paint supplies and allowing access to the catwalk to alter an electric box to cook meals.
Matt and David Sweat escaped from the prison, setting off a 23-day manhunt last June.
During the court proceedings Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie stressed incarceration options for Palmer. “Incarceration would be subject to the court’s discretion. And of course with the D felony the maximum sentence the Mr. Palmer could receive is 2 1/3 to 7 years in state prison. But the court has the option of sentencing the defendant to a one year in the county jail.”
Judge Kevin Ryan says he took several things into account including Palmer’s lack of criminal history and previously unblemished work record. “I first have ruled out any sentence of incarceration in the Department of Corrections. I’ve also rejected any sentence of probation. In the end however I do believe that some incarcerative punishment is clearly warranted.”
Palmer was sentenced to 6 months in county jail for the felony charge and fined $5,375. He is eligible to be released after 4 months.
Palmer’s lawyer Bill Dreyer says it was a long and difficult negotiation to reach this resolution. “We were hoping for a sentence that did not include any imprisonment. But under the circumstances I think the judge’s reasoning, his rationale, and the ultimate sentence is a fair one. (What does your client think about it?) He’s satisfied with the sentence as it is and understands all the circumstances which went in to determining the sentence.”
Dreyer adds that his client is glad the proceedings are over. “He’s unhappy that he did what he did. He’s remorseful about what he did. He ruined a 28 year career. He’s looking forward to getting this behind him. He has retired from the system. I think all in all that he has the ability to recover and to move on and that’s what he plans to do.”
State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott issued a statement following Palmer’s sentencing, saying his disregard for rules and procedures led to a breakdown in security allowing Matt and Sweat to escape. “His actions made him a key enabler for the convicts’ escape plans and helped illuminate many of the procedural failures throughout Clinton Correctional Facility .”
Palmer declined to address the court. He began serving his sentence immediately. The Inspector General’s office says the investigation into the escape from the Dannemora prison “remains ongoing.”