BELLMONT, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of searchers spurred on by fresh evidence methodically combed through heavy woods in far northern New York on Tuesday hoping to finally close in on two elusive murderers who escaped from a maximum-security prison more than two weeks ago.
Authorities began committing heavy resources to the remote woods days ago after leads from a hunting camp that was apparently broken into led to “good evidence, DNA data” regarding inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Roadblocks were in place Tuesday around the remote hamlets of Owls Head and Mountain View in an area of rugged terrain about 20 miles west of Clinton County Correctional Facility.
Searchers were checking ATV trails, logging roads and railroad beds and going door-to-door and conducting grid searches in the thick, mosquito-infested forests, said Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill. He said people were checking seasonal properties for signs of intruders.
Authorities hoped that an 18-day search punctuated by fruitless tips — officers spent part of the weekend scouring a rural area by the Pennsylvania line more than 300 miles away — might finally be close to the end.
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“If they’re here, we’re going to find them,” Mulverhill said. “I really believe it’s going to come down to old-fashioned police work and the public.”
Cuomo said, “I believe we will get these guys.” But the governor also cautioned that they’ve had a number of leads and the more than 1,000 officers involved in the search have to follow each as though it’s the one that’s going to bring authorities to the escapees.
Meanwhile, the husband of the woman accused of helping the inmates escape said in an interview aired Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show that he’s “absolutely 100 percent” certain the pair would have killed him and his wife if his wife had been their getaway driver, as initially planned.
Lyle Mitchell said his wife, Joyce Mitchell, told him Sweat and Matt offered to give her pills to knock him out so she could pick them up after they escaped, but she refused because she said she still loved her husband.
“Do I still love her? Yes. Am I mad? Yes,” Lyle Mitchell said in the interview aired Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.
Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.
Tuesday’s search area was about 20 miles east of the Mitchells’ home in Dickinson Center.
Sweat and Matt escaped from the prison in Dannemora on June 6. Authorities say they cut through the steel wall at the back of their cell, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe, and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Mulverhill said a tight perimeter would be established if needed Tuesday night. Listening posts would be set up and aircraft would be sent on patrol.
There were no new confirmed sightings by Tuesday afternoon.
But Scott Noel watched with amazement as helicopters hovered over an area near his family’s camp in a rural hamlet, and dozens of officers swarmed in to check out what turned out to be a false alarm.
“My family has been here 100 years, and nobody ever heard of Mountain View,” Noel said. “It’s surreal.”
Associated Press writers Chris Carola and Michael Hill in Albany contributed to this report.