This article has been updated.
Joyce Mitchell, the prison worker who was arrested Friday afternoon in connection with the escape of two convicted murderers in New York state, pleaded not guilty on all charges at her arraignment Friday evening. A preliminary hearing will take place Monday morning.
Mitchell, 51, is accused of providing the convicts, David Sweat and Richard Matt, with contraband before they escaped the maximum security section of Clinton Correctional Facility early Saturday.She is charged with first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor, police said. If convicted, Mitchell could face up to seven years in prison for the first charge and up to a year in jail for the second charge, said Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie. He said Mitchell could face more charges.
“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 was expected to be arraigned later Friday. She has been suspended from her $57,697 a year job at Clinton Correctional Facility, according to prison employee records.
Sweat and Matt escaped almost 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.
Wylie said earlier Friday that Mitchell took contraband into the prison. Sweat and Matt worked in the tailor shop where Mitchell taught, according to investigators.
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.
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.”