- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—REPORTING FROM NEW YORK — A former prison employee charged with helping two killers in a brazen escape that led to a three-week manhunt pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor Tuesday, nearly two months after her arrest stunned residents of the small town where she worked.

A weeping Joyce Mitchell, 51, of Dickinson Center, N.Y., entered her plea in a barely audible voice in court in Plattsburgh, N.Y. She faces up to seven years in prison and $6,000 in fines.

Mitchell was accused in a criminal complaint of smuggling hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit into the Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, N.Y. Prosecutors said she stashed the blades in frozen hamburger meat.

Mitchell allegedly gave the contraband to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat, who were discovered missing from their cells during an early morning bed check on June 6. Matt was shot dead three weeks later about 40 miles from Dannemora. Sweat was captured two days after that.

At her first court appearance, days after the pair vanished, Mitchell pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of smuggling contraband into the prison, and to a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree. The misdemeanor stemmed for Mitchell’s alleged rendering of aid to Sweat and Matt to enable their breakout.

Mitchell changed the plea Tuesday under the advice of her attorney, Stephen Johnson. As part of the deal, Clinton County Dist. Atty. Andrew Wylie said Mitchell would not face prosecution for any additional charges related to the prison break.

Wylie also said Mitchell would not face charges for a possible conspiracy to murder her husband, Lyle Mitchell, who also worked at the prison. Prosecutors had said that Mitchell had talked to Sweat and Matt about killing her husband after she helped them break out.

Mitchell arrived at the courthouse in Plattsburgh with her hands shackled and dressed in a striped prison jumpsuit. She hung her head and did not speak as she passed a media crowd waiting outside the court.

Various local news reports have alleged that Mitchell was romantically involved with one of the inmates.

Sweat has said that Mitchell was supposed to wait for him and Matt when they emerged through a manhole outside the prison after digging a tunnel to escape. But prosecutors say Mitchell told them she changed her mind at the last minute because she did not want to hurt her husband.

Lyle Mitchell was among those in court as his wife entered her plea. After the hearing, which lasted less than 30 minutes, Joyce Mitchell shuffled out, her head hung low, for the ride back to jail.

MORE ON PRISON ESCAPE:

Debris from failed relationships litters New York prison escape

Saga of New York prison break ends with David Sweat’s capture

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