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North Country News

Mitchell Pleads Guilty In Aiding Prison Break

Former Clinton Correctional employee Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty during her arraignment in Plattsburgh today on charges related to her role in aiding the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from the maximum security prison in Dannemora.

The 51-year-old Mitchell pleaded guilty to promoting prison contraband first degree and criminal facilitating in the fourth degree.  She is accused of knowingly and unlawfully bringing contraband including hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Richard Matt and David Sweat while they were inmates at the Dannemora prison.

She is also charged with intentionally rendering them aid that provided the means for their escape, which set off a 23-day manhunt in June. In the end, Matt was shot and killed by police and Sweat was wounded before being taken into custody.

In court Tuesday morning, Mitchell agreed to a plea agreement and waived her right to have the charges presented to a Grand Jury.  Judge Kevin Ryan asked her a series of questions to assure she understood the charges and the plea agreement.  She quietly answered each query and as she was escorted from the courtroom it was evident that she had been crying.

Following the session, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said there is overwhelming evidence of her guilt.   “The people were confident that the two charges within the Superior Court Information were charges that would be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and in the interest of justice I negotiated a plea and recommended sentence that was placed on the record today. Because the evidence was so overwhelming Ms. Mitchell has acknowledged her guilt obviously by appearing in court and entering a plea. She wanted to expedite her case proceeding and move on.”  

Mitchell could have faced other charges including promoting prison contraband, conspiracy to commit the murder of her husband, and charges related to sexual relations with Sweat and Matt.   The District Attorney says under the plea deal Mitchell avoids those charges.  Mitchell’s lawyer Stephen Johnston advised her to accept the plea agreement because the evidence is so overwhelming and he feared the additional charges. He describes Mitchell as anxious, depressed and remorseful.   “She got in over her head into something she never should have started. But she did and she’s paying the price now.  But she realizes that she made a horrible mistake. Matt got her to feeling good about herself, better than she had for a period of time and she was swept off her feet a bit. And then when she realized who she was dealing with everything changed.”

Under the deal, Mitchell waives her right to trial and must cooperate with the Inspector General’s investigation at the Clinton Correctional facility.

There are still two pending court proceedings related to the escape from Dannemora.  Wylie says the investigation into charges against Corrections Officer Gene Palmer is continuing. Grand Jury proceedings were delayed to allow his attorney to review the case.    “Plea negotiations with Palmer’s attorney have failed and Palmer’s  attorney has advised us in writing that Palmer will not waive his right to Grand Jury and that the case will be presented in early August to the Clinton County Grand jury. In regard to charges pending against David Sweat of escape in the first degree: the delay in the Grand Jury presentment was caused by the Inspector General’s investigation as well as the investigation being conducted by the Franklin County District Attorney’s office. We will also present this case in early August.”

Mitchell is due back in court September 28th for sentencing.  She faces 2- 1/3 to 7 years in prison.

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