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The original story a few days ago... (New York Times)

With Power Tools and a Ruse, 2 Killers Flee New York Prison

JUNE 7, 2015

DANNEMORA, N.Y. — The State Police and other law enforcement agencies were continuing on Sunday to hunt for two fugitive murderers in the wilderness and rural communities of northern New York, a day after the two men escaped from the maximum-security state prison here.

In a news conference on Sunday afternoon, officials said investigators were sifting through more than 150 leads. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state was offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the inmates, or $50,000 for tips leading to each one.

“This is a crisis situation for the state,” the governor said. “These are dangerous men. They are capable of committing grave crimes once again.”

Duping guards with dummies fashioned out of sweatshirts and using power tools to drill out of their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility, the men made their getaway late Friday or early Saturday, emerging on the other side of the prison’s 30-foot-tall walls, officials said.

The prisoners used power tools and subterfuge.
Officials said they were not ruling out any possibilities in their search, and the governor said residents across the state should be on alert. The men could be together, separate or with others, in New York, in a neighboring state, or even in Canada, he said.

“With the sophistication they have shown,” Mr. Cuomo said, “I would not rule out that they may have acquired an automobile and planned to rendezvous with someone.”

The governor said the escape took at least “a number of days” to execute and involved cutting through pipes and walls that were two feet thick. He said officials were confident that the men worked from the inside to get out.

Earlier, in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” broadcast earlier Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said that investigators were trying to determine how the men acquired the tools — and used them — to drill through steel walls, pipes and stone walls in fashioning a subterranean escape route without detection.

But, even more pressing, the governor said, was the manhunt.

“The first order of business is to get these killers back,” the governor said.

The governor marveled at the particulars of the escape, in which the two inmates had cut through a steel wall of their adjacent cells, shinnied down a series of internal catwalks, and burrowed their way more than a city block away before emerging from a manhole. Mr. Cuomo said that there had been a number of contractors working in the facility, and that the escapees’ work may have been safeguarded by the silence of other prisoners.

“I chatted with a couple of the inmates myself and said, ‘You must be a very heavy sleeper,’” the governor said. “They were heard, they had to be heard.”

The governor gave no updates on the status of the search, but the police and other law enforcement officers had already fanned out into area surrounding the prison on Sunday.

Overnight, police officers in bulletproof vests and armed with rifles manned roadblocks on routes leading to and from the town, peering into cars and checking trunks as red flares lit up the pavement on a chilly night.

Floodlights filled the street around the prison, whose thick walls loomed high over the north side of the town’s main street, which was closed to most traffic. Dozens of law enforcement officials stood guard in a nearby neighborhood where the two escapees had emerged from a manhole.

The State Police identified the inmates as Richard Matt and David Sweat. The prison, about 170 miles north of Albany, is near the Canadian border.

After learning of the escape, Mr. Cuomo had canceled a scheduled visit to the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y., to travel here and meet with the police and prison officials.

“When you look at how the operation was done, it was extraordinary,” Mr. Cuomo said on Saturday after being given a tour of the escape route. This was the first time in the prison’s history that anyone escaped from the maximum-security section of the facility, he said.

The State Police said that Mr. Matt, 49, and Mr. Sweat, 35, were discovered missing during a 5:30 a.m. bed check.

The inmates left a parting message, according to a picture posted to Twitter by Gareth Rhodes, the governor’s deputy press secretary. It shows a yellow Post-it note next to a hole cut in a pipe. On the note, a caricature of a man wearing a conical hat appears above the words “Have a nice day!”

The inmates' escape route included walking onto a catwalk and drilling through steel pipes. The prison has walls 30 feet tall.

Both men were “a danger to the public,” and officials advised anyone who saw them not to approach them and to contact the police.

Anthony J. Annucci, the acting commissioner of the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said that officials did not know how the inmates acquired the tools.

Officials were also trying to find out how the inmates knew their way out, he said.

“It may have been over a period of time,” he said. “It may have been trial and error. We don’t know.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo toured the prison on Saturday. He canceled plans to attend the Belmont Stakes after learning about the escape.

Mr. Cuomo said the inmates had used decoys made from sweatshirts to make it look as if they were asleep in their beds, deceiving corrections officers who check on them every two hours.

The discovery prompted an immediate lockdown of the prison, which remained in effect late Saturday.

Officials said that more than 250 law enforcement officers were involved in the search, along with helicopters, K-9 units and bloodhounds. Maj. Charles Guess, the State Police commander of the region, said the police and prison officials were conducting a full investigation with local and state authorities, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Marshals Service.

The police described Mr. Matt as 6 feet tall and weighing 210 pounds. He has black hair and hazel eyes, officials said. He has a tattoo on his back that says “Mexico Forever,” hearts tattooed on his chest and left shoulder and a Marine Corps insignia tattooed on his right, according to the police.

Mr. Sweat is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 165 pounds, the police said. He has brown hair and green eyes, and tattoos on his left biceps and his right fingers, according to the police.

It was not Mr. Matt’s first escape. Officials said he had escaped from an Erie County jail in June 1986. He was eventually caught and returned to prison, where he served time for that crime and for forgery.

He has since been housed in maximum security facilities, corrections officials said.

Mr. Matt was returned to state prison in 1993 after an attempted burglary and served roughly three years before he was released in February 1997, state records show.

By December of that year, he had been rearrested and charged with murder in the killing of William Rickerson, a man from North Tonawanda, N.Y.,who was beaten to death and dismembered. He was convicted in 2008.

Before his trial he fled to Mexico, where he was sentenced to 20 years for fatally stabbing another American during an attempted robbery outside a bar. He was extradited to the United States in 2007 to face trial for Mr. Rickerson’s murder.

At the time of the escape, Mr. Matt was serving a sentence of 25 years to life with no chance for parole before 2032.

For Mr. Sweat, the sentence was life without parole for a 2002 killing of a Broome County, N.Y., deputy sheriff. The police said he shot Deputy Kevin Tarsia 22 times, then stole several items from the deputy’s patrol car, including his .40-caliber Glock pistol.

The police said Mr. Sweat had been at the prison since 2003, and that Mr. Matt had arrived in 2008.

The photograph of Mr. Sweat released on Saturday was taken on May 21. Mr. Matt’s photo had been taken the day before.

Both men had “satisfactory” disciplinary records in prison, according to corrections officials, with both having just one episode on their records. (Mr. Matt was found to be in possession of prohibited tattooing materials; Mr. Sweat harassed a fellow inmate.)

The last known address for Mr. Sweat was in Windsor, N.Y., according to state records; Mr. Matt’s last address was in Tonawanda.

Mr. Cuomo petitioned residents for help finding the men, but urged New Yorkers to act with caution.

“These are dangerous people, and they are nothing to be trifled with,” Mr. Cuomo said.
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