A New York prison worker charged with aiding in the escape of two convicted killers allegedly brought hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit into the prison weeks before the men made their brazen escape, according court documents.
Joyce Mitchell, 51, was arrested by state police Friday and charged with a felony count of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation. She pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Friday night. She faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
Police say Mitchell brought contraband into the upstate Clinton Correctional Facility, and that helped convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt break out of prison in the early morning hours of June 6. They remained at large Friday.
"This is one large piece of the puzzle in the quest to find the escaped murderers," New York State Police Maj. Charles Guess told reporters during a news conference Friday night.
Mitchell brought in contraband at around noon on May 1, or five weeks before the escape, according to the criminal complaint.
Sweat and Matt escaped nearly a week ago from maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in the town of Dannemora, sawing out of their cells with power tools before clambering through the works of the building and out through a manhole.
Sweat and Matt worked in the tailor shop where Mitchell taught, according to investigators. Mitchell on Friday was suspended without pay from her $57,697 a year job at the prison.
Sources close to the investigation told NBC News on Thursday that Mitchell was charmed by Matt, to the point that "she thought it was love," and planned to be the men's getaway driver before she got cold feet.
Mitchell's husband Lyle, who also works at the prison, has not been charged and is not in custody, Guess said. Her son, Tobey, told NBC News on Tuesday that he couldn't imagine either of his parents being involved in the escape plan.
Guess said Mitchell was charged Friday because investigators were "satisfied" with the information they obtained from her during questioning. "Our interviews with Joyce Mitchell have been fruitful and productive," he said.
Mitchell was ordered held on $100,000 bail or $200,000 bond, and her next court date is Monday morning.
On Friday, the hunt expanded to include more than 800 law enforcement officers, working with search dogs and helicopters. More than 700 leads have been called in, the New York State Police said.
Guess said authorities weren't ruling out that the inmates left the area or split up, but they have not found any evidence that indicates the inmates went very far. "We're highly focused and intent on searching this area to our satisfaction. We're getting closer with every step that we take," he said, but added that there had been no confirmed sightings of the escaped inmates.
While rough weather has hampered the search, Guess said that the escapees are also likely dealing with the same conditions if they are still near the prison.
"We've gotta assume they're cold, wet, tired and hungry," Guess said. "We have a message for David Sweat and Richard Matt: We're coming for you and we will not stop until you are caught."