The prison guard facing five charges for his involvement with two prisoners who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora this summer was in court Wednesday to enter his plea.
Suspended corrections officer Gene Palmer appeared before Judge Kevin K. Ryan in Clinton County Court Wednesday to be arraigned on two counts of promoting prison contraband first degree, two counts of tampering with physical evidence and one count of official misconduct. The last charge is a misdemeanor, the others are felonies.
Palmer, who has not been jailed, was in a suit and tie. He sat quietly and stoically and during the proceedings only his lawyer, William Dreyer, spoke. Judge Ryan first asked if he would waive grand jury proceedings. “Since this accusatory instrument contains felony charges he does not have to proceed unless and until the people secure an indictment from a grand jury. A defendant may if he wishes however waive this right and consent to be prosecuted by Superior Court Information rather than indictment. Mr. Dreyer what is Mr. Palmer’s position in regard to this right?”
Dreyer: “Mr. Palmer’s been informed of his rights and has chosen to execute a waiver of indictment Your Honor.”
Dreyer then entered the plea to the five charges against Palmer. “Your Honor we would like to enter a plea of not guilty today and request a court conference before the court sets any deadlines for motions, etc.”
Judge Ryan: “Your plea of not guilty is noted.”
After the plea was entered District Attorney Andrew Wylie requested a brief meeting in chambers with the judge. When they returned, Judge Ryan concluded the session. “I will set January 8, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. as the time for our pre-trial conference. My understanding is that Mr. Palmer has posted bail of $25,000 and that will continue.”
Dreyer: “Thank you Your Honor”
Judge Ryan: “If there’s nothing further this concludes the matter.”
Wylie made no comment on the day’s proceedings but did issue a release detailing the charges.
The prosecutor says Palmer is charged with knowingly and unlawfully bringing dangerous contraband into the prison by providing frozen hamburger meat to Richard Matt. Palmer also allegedly provided needle nose pliers and screwdrivers to Matt and David Sweat. Palmer is also charged with intending to prevent evidence from being used in official proceedings by burning and burying paintings he had obtained from Matt and Sweat.
State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott is investigating the escape. “This defendant allegedly engaged in conduct over a lengthy period of time of disregarding the rules and allegedly breaking the law in order to assist two murderers escape from this maximum security correctional facility. These charges underscore his apparent culpability in the systemic breakdown of security processes and procedures that led to this escape, a breakdown I am continuing to thoroughly investigate to help make sure this never happens again.”
As Dreyer left the Clinton County Government Center he would only say that discussions regarding the case are continuing. “Somebody asked me if there were any discussions going on. And there are and we’ll have further proceedings in January. That’s all I can say at this point, discussions concerning a potential resolution.” A reporter asks for clarification: “You said that you were working on negotiations?” “We’re having discussions.”
Palmer made no comment. He faces a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to seven years on each count of promoting prison contraband; 1 1/3 to four years for each count of tampering with physical evidence and 1 year for the misconduct charges. Because the events are alleged to have occurred on separate days, the sentences could be imposed consecutively.