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The Great Prison Escape. Aired 9:00-9:30p ET.

Aired June 23, 2015 - 21:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN special report.


ANTHONY ANNUCCI, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS ACTING COMMISSIONER: There was a hole cut out at the back of the cell to which these inmates escaped.

KAYE: Two convicted killers cutting their way to freedom emerging from a manhole outside the prison walls.

ANNUCCI: We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility.

KAYE: Two dangerous murderers, now free.

JOHN WALSH, CNN HOST, "THE HUNT": They kill anybody they feel like killing anytime.

KAYE: How'd they get the power tools? Who helped them? And where are they now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're leaving no stone unturned.

KAYE: A scent in the woods, saw sightings, all part of a desperate search through the Adirondack and along the Canadian border from the ground and from the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They could've gone on to the north up here to all this vast woods towards Canada pretty easy to get lost up in there.

KAYE: Is law enforcement closing in?

Hello, I'm Randi Kaye in Dannemora, New York.

I'm standing just yards away from Clinton Correctional Facility where inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat broke out of. It's the first time anyone has escaped from this maximum security facility since it opened back in the mid 1800s. That bold escape was just the beginning of a story that's almost too twisted to believe involving murder, manipulation, and sex.

KAYE: Before the sun even began to rise over the small town of Dannemora, New York, they were gone. An escape plan worthy of a screen play carried out by two very dangerous men.

WALSH: On a scale of one to ten, they are ten dangerous wild animals.

KAYE: Prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat had adjoining cell here at Clinton Correctional Facility. The two were last seen Friday night, June 5th, around 10:30 P.M. during what's called a standing count where both Matt and Sweat showed themselves standing inside their cells.

But just hours later, a shocking discovery that would leave prison guards shaking their heads, law enforcement on high alert, and this small upstate New York community terrified.

ANNUCCI: This is a very elaborate plan but we are only at the very preliminary stages of determining exactly what happened.

KAYE: What happened, would take time to piece together. All authorities knew at this point was that at 5:30 AM on Saturday, June 6, routine bed checks turned up only lumps of clothing under the sheets. The two prisoners were missing.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: They weren't actual dummies but they were -- they had clothing on and it looked like people sleeping in the bunks with this sweatshirt hoodie on.

KAYE: How could they have disappeared? After all, this is a maximum security prison. There are visual bed checks every 2 hours through out the night and guard towers high above the prison walls. But as authorities began to take a closer look, details soon emerged of a stunning escape not over the prison wall but underneath it.

ANNUCCI: Search reveals, there was a hole cut out at the back of the cell to which these inmates escaped.

KAYE: A hole in the back of the cell. This is what it looked like.

The men cut their way right through the cell wall and steel that was a quarter inch thick. The escapees then negotiated a maze of underground tunnels and pipes.

The prisoners got their first taste of freedom in years when they popped out of that man hole right there at that yellow tape.

This is actually the closest that we're allowed to get to it. And it was a pretty bold exit plan because right over there, is a health club and it's surrounded by homes in this quiet neighborhood. So anyone who might've been outside and might've seen them could've quickly called police.

The manhole is just a block and half from the prison where New York governor, Andrew Cuomo retraced the mens steps hours after they disappeared.

CUOMO: Must've kept you awake with all that cutting.

KAYE: Pictures from the Governors tour of the prison are proof of the elaborate escape.

Here's how they figure Matt and Sweat made it out. Once they slipped pout of their cell. It's believed they maneuvered across this six story high catwalk eventually dropping down to a series of tunnels. Form there, they broke through a double brick wall. Then incredibly cut through a 24 inch steam pipe, shimmying their way through it.

[21:05:05] On the other end about a block away form the prison by then, they cut yet another hole this time, to get out of the pipe. After that, they cut right through the chain and lock holding down the man whole cover.

WALSH: If there was a rapid tight are running around the neighborhood or a rabid lion or something that could kill anybody. Well this are those animals, these two guys are those kind of animals like rabid animals they could kill anybody at the drop of act.

KAYE: A closer look reveal the men had likely been using some type of metal grate to conceal the hole they where cutting in their cell. Investigators believe they also made used to hack saw to keep the noise down, cheap paint on the cells walls and numerous paint jobs only appear t help disguise the hole.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The New York State Police Department of Correctional Services and all our state local and federal law enforcement partners are conducting a full investigation of the escape of these two inmates.

KAYE: The escapees left a message for those coming for them that yellow post it note was found on one of the pipes they cut through dripping this sarcasm it reads have a nice day with a smiling face on it.

WALSH: Sure they are taunting. They're being arrogant they're going, "Hey, you stupid idiots you weren't watching us close enough when we got out."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A variety of tactical units like SWAT units, a number of K9 to include blood hounds even three aerial support aircraft, two state police helicopters and one from Home Land Security have been here since this event occurred this morning.

KAYE: The urgency was clear 35 year old David Sweat and 48 year old Richard Matt had killed before. Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing his sheriffs deputy back in 2002. Matt had been convicted of three accounts of murder, three accounts of kidnapping, and two accounts of robbery.

He kidnapped his former boss William Rickerson back in 1997 after torturing him for about 24 hours he killed and dismembered him. Matt was sentences to 25 years to life in prison. Lee Bates served time after acting as Richard Matt accomplice in that 1997 murder, he testified against him and in a phone interview with Anderson Cooper called Matt evil.

LEE BATES, RICHARD MATT'S FORMER ACCOMPLICE: That you want to detect a picture of the devil that's the face that you would see.

KAYE: Bates remembers Matt shoving a knife sharpening his victim's ear and breaking his fingers before killing him.

BATES: I have seen him kill. He did kill Mr. Rickerson, his old boss in my presence and I feel the rage (ph) he reached into the car, grab Mr. Rickerson by his head and snapped his neck in front of me.

KAYE: Richard Matt had escaped prison before in 1986 he broke out of an Erie County Jail only to be caught and sentenced to a maximum security prison in Elmira, New York on charges of escape and forgery.

BATES: His a master manipulator that knows the prison system, that knows street, that the streets marks and his a very cunning and dangerous individual. Certainly he planned that just as well as he did back many years ago when he escaped from a prison up here near Buffalo.

KAYE: What may have made the escape somewhat easier this time around is the fact that Richard Matt and David Sweat where housed in what's called the honor block at Clinton Correctional Facility a prison block reserved for inmates who have gone years without significant disciplinary problems. The honor block had it privileges like hot plates and refrigerators in cells.

Here prisoners are also allowed to congregate for hours with fellow inmates which may have given Matt and Sweat the time they needed to plot their escape. Prisoners housed in the honor block are also allowed to wear civilian clothing instead of the traditional prison gar which also may have allowed them to blend in easier once on the outside.

Their good behavior landed Richard Matt and David Sweat jobs in the prison tailor shop could that be where they access those power tools needed to cut their way to freedom?

CUOMO: It was truly extraordinary and unusual and almost impossible to duplicate but we want to find out exactly what happened. And one of the big questions is where did the tools come from?

KAYE: To answer that question investigators begin to zero on tailor shop one where the escapes worked along side of prison seamstress named Joyce Mitchell.

[21:10:04] And the more they look into Joyce Mitchell the plot starts to unravel complete with sex, betrayal, and a plan to murder.


KAYE: On the surface this woman would seem like the most unlikely accomplice to a crime, 51 years old she is a wife and a mother married to the same man for 14 years. But Joyce Mitchell has secrets.

Secrets that have landed her in jail accused of helping two dangerous felons break free.

WALSH: I did many escapees on "Americans Most Wanted" that would have never gotten out if it wasn't for the woman who helped him.

KAYE: In this case authority say Joyce Mitchell is the woman who helped Richard Matt and David Sweat with their plan just how did this wife and mother become involved with two convicted murderers?

It started with David Sweat in 2013. Sweat was working in the prison tailor shop when he meets and befriended Mitchell the seamstress there. They formed there relationships so close it caught the notice of others at the prison and so they where investigated for having an inappropriate relationship.

ANDREW WYLIE, CLINTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He was moved out of the tailor block that he was in put into a second unit he was then brought back into the tailor unit but not the one that Joyce Mitchell was in.

KAYE: But its Sweat was moved out Richard Matt moved in. Matt was known as the ladies men, a charmer who befriended Mitchell and took it perhaps even further than Sweat.

[21:15:13] In 2013, the two started a sexual relationship according to a source close to the investigation. They would meet and have sex in the tailor shop when no one else was around.

All this time, Joyce Mitchell kept this from her husband Lyle. According to his attorney, even though he also worked in the prison tailor shop and knew both Richard Matt and David Sweat.

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Joyce has established the pattern of deception.

KAYE: Former FBI Profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole says inmates can be like predators on the lookout for vulnerable prey which are often women who work inside the prisons.

O'TOOLE: It starts small asking for her to bring in a candy bar or asking her to bring in a stamp. There's wording that goes along with something like this, "Only I'd met a woman like you 20 years ago, I'd never be in this situation." So, she would be very gullible in believing that and that's really called something we referred to in the FBI as magical thinking.

KAYE: Joyce Mitchell told the investigators Richard Matt made her feel special and other reports say she thought it could have been love. But was she in so deep she was willing to risk everything for it?

WALSH: I don't know why anybody is surprised. I think all Americans know that crazy, lonely, low self-esteem type of women like prisoners in prison. A woman tried to marry Charles Manson, women married the Menendez Brothers, a woman married the Hillside Strangler who murdered 17 plus women in L.A. and tortured them with co-hangers. It never ceased to amaze me how women are seduced by these guys.

KAYE: Mitchell wasn't just risking her marriage, she was risking her freedom. All the while, she was having this relationship with Matt. Investigators say she was also aware of their escape plot even giving them tools to help them.

Investigators say she smuggled the hacksaw blades, chisels, drill bits and other items and delivered them right into the prisoner's hands. And it didn't stop there. Authorities say Mitchell admitted she was going to drive the getaway car and even had a time and place to meet the prisoners after they made their great escape.

This is where they were supposed to meet. This power plant is just a few hundred yards away from the manhole where the man emerged from. The power plant smokestack I'm told is visible from the tailor shop at the prison where the two men worked with Joyce Mitchell. The D.A. says that smokestack was likely a marker for their meeting place.

But on the day of the plan to getaway, she panicked saying she had chest pains and instead of picking up her lover and his fellow fugitive, she went to the hospital with her husband, Lyle.

Meanwhile, the killers are on the loose.

WALSH: Prisoners have all the time in the world, they're con men to begin with. These guys are sociopath, they manipulate women, they got to those women's low self-esteem and they got her which I think is really pretty sad. Now, her (inaudible) is ruined. Her life is holy hell. They're out there running around. They couldn't care less about her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $200,000 fine for felony.

KAYE: Joyce Mitchell was arrested on a felony charge of providing prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation. She has pleaded not guilty to both charges. Her lawyer says she is destroyed (ph). But her story and her possible involvement is far from over.

Lyle Mitchell visited his wife in jail after she was taken in and was confronted outside by ABC News with a stunning question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you make of the report says she was trying to have you killed?

KAYE: That's right. Not only was Joyce Mitchell allegedly having a sexual relationship with the prisoner and potentially helping them plot their escape, authority say she was also aware of a plan to have her husband Lyle Mitchell killed.

Did you know anything about the escape plan?

Lyle Mitchell has also been questioned by police but had not been charged with anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had no information whatsoever that he had prior knowledge of the escape or that he participated or actively assisted in the escape of the two inmates.

KAYE: His lawyer says he didn't know about any of his wife's activities until he confronted her two days after the escape. That's when she told him the escapees wanted to kill him. Lyle was stunned when he heard all the details about the affair and the murder plot and he feels betrayed by his wife.

PETER DUMAS, LYLE MITCHELL'S ATTORNEY: I hate to use a cliche, but, you know, love is blind.

KAYE: Lyle Mitchell says he will not stand behind her anymore according to his attorney and Joyce Mitchell remains behind bars. She says she didn't want Lyle to be hurt implying she may have been coerced into helping the inmates.


DUMAS: The way I understand it is she's still onboard with the escape plan. She's still willing to help them out. They have a plan to do harm to Lyle. She doesn't agree with that. She doesn't want Lyle hurt.

They start treating here saying, you know, "We're going to have someone hurt him anyway, we're going to have someone hurt them in the facility or we're going to have someone go to the house and hurt him. You got to help us out."

KAYE: For a woman of many secrets, some are still unknown. The main one is she telling investigators everything she knows or does she have more information on where Richard Matt and David Sweat were heading.


KAYE: A massive manhunt underway, fugitives David Sweat and Richard Matt on the run, law enforcement moving into neighborhoods, going door to door leaving nothing to chain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're leaving no stone unturned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be literally anywhere.

KAYE: But, where were they? And what did the prison seamstress now accused of aiding in their escape really know?

[21:25:03] What do we know about their plan after they left the prison?

WYLIE: Well, she's been consistent. She's been consistent and that it's -- was seven hours from this area. She didn't know whether it was somewhere in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Canada. If we believe her to be telling the truth on that, then they were keeping her at bay about what their, you know, ultimate plan may have been.

KAYE: Check points and road blocks were quickly set up as police search each vehicle for anything out of the ordinary, imploring the public to be on the look out.

WALSH: They could be holdup in a home somewhere canned food, maybe watching the whole story on television, nice and cool, nice and dry.

KAYE: Lee Bates is a former accomplice of Richard Matt.

BATES: They have something in common that that says, you know, were out and when they catch us we're done. And their mind sets probably going to be they're not going to take us alive.

KAYE: Alive or not, residence here on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The state police have been by here with out exaggeration probably 50 times in the last two or three days.

KAYE: Have they asked you any question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes they have if I seen anything, heard anything, the answers been no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like tracks leading here, unless you got you got broken pieces down here so we don't know if somebody went through here. And if you go down you got like a little of stream coming down so you follow the stream it's a nice way out.

KAYE: This woman was checking here attic and basement every night before bed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody's going to see something somewhere, somebody's going to give it up.

KAYE: In Dannemora, investigators concentrated on a perimeter near the prison, four wheelers cut pads to rough terrain, the thick brush made it hard to see. So search teams are resorting to other means using motion detectors similar to this one, they have cameras on them and they can be attached to any tree here in the woods when the sensors pick up activity they snap a photo.

Law enforcement also on a hunt from the air, you can see what search teams where up against, so many places where the escapees to hide 6 millions acres of trees and heavy wood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty easy to hide out here.

KAYE: In a distance another challenge, the Canadian boarder.

PAUL MONGILLO, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BOARDER PROTECTION: We are looking at the vehicles we're looking at the individuals, opening trunks, opening back of doors of trucks and things, so it is a lot very extensive.

KAYE: The escapees maybe looking for a place like this t cross the boarder, they certainly haven't easier time. Boarder patrol can't secure the entire northern boarder, so there are plenty spots like this one, open areas where you don't need any passports or documentation to cross the boarder. So watch this here I'm standing in the U.S. so I keep one foot in the U.S. and put another foot in Canada. This is the boarder right here or I can just simply walk into Canada no questions asked.

Closer to the prison tips where pouring in. In the village of Saranac, investigators believe they were getting close when a resident thought he spotted the two escapees jumping over a stone wall in the backyard. Another alleged sighting, two men spotted walking in the middle of the night in the pouring rain and another possible lead. Near the Pennsylvania boarder and now possibly the strongest lead yet, another sighting a witness says a man was running out of a cabin into the woods in Franklin County, New York, just 20 miles away from the prison, sources say DNA from both men was found inside. Could this be the break investigators are looking for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No lead is too small for us to investigate. Law enforcement is maintaining a strong, invisible presence in this region.

KAYE: But the fugitives are still on the run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neither them from this area but that is not as count the fact they could have done a research or had some collaborations to location of this cabin or the region in general.

We asked the public to remain on alert take any necessary safety precautions and remain vigilant about reporting anything, anything that is out of the ordinary.

JOHN CUFF, FMR. U.S. MARSHAL: This people are in need. They're in need of money, they're in needs as of to sustain themselves. They're hunkered down right now. They're somewhere. They're going to have to make a move at some point when they feel comfortable we're going to surface and your going to make a mistake.

O'TOOLE: I think that their long established history on both of their parts to use violence to live their lives to use violence because they got upset with somebody that will ultimately get them caught again.

KAYE: How long before they get caught again is anybody's guess, but investigators remained vigilant then so is the public tracking down every lead anything to return the escapees back here behind bars, until then Richard Matt and David Sweat will remain on the U.S Marshal's most wanted list reserved for only the most dangerous criminals.

[21:30:08] I'm Randi Kaye, thanks for watching.