2 years ago, a pair of killers made a prison break straight out of 'Shawshank Redemption'
The 22-day manhunt came to an end on June 28, 2015, near the NY-Canada border.
— -- It was a story straight out of the movies.
Today marks two years since the manhunt for convicted killers David Sweat and Richard Matt came to an end. Weeks earlier, the two men had escaped from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York in dramatic fashion with the help of a female employee they seduced and a correctional officer who unknowingly provided them with the tools they needed to break out.
On June 28, 2015, after 22 days on the run, Sweat, now 37, was shot and taken into custody near the New York-Canada border, ending what was the largest manhunt in New York State Police history. Matt, 48, had been shot and killed by a border patrol SWAT team days earlier.
As the manhunt and subsequent investigation unfolded, a portrait of a broken prison system emerged, one that officials said both men took advantage of to stage their high-profile escape. On the two-year anniversary, here's a look back at Sweat and Matt's shocking prison break and where the key players involved in the ordeal are now:
'SHAWSHANK'-STYLE PRISON BREAK SPARKS MASSIVE MANHUNT
In 2015, Matt and Sweat were inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border.
Matt was serving 25 years to life in prison after he kidnapped and beat a man to death in 1997, while Sweat was serving a life sentence after he was convicted of killing a Broome County sheriff's deputy in 2002.
According to a 2016 report from the New York inspector general, an inmate "described Sweat as 'very, very self-sufficient in all ways'; whereas Matt was 'sociable' and 'gregarious.'"
The report said a friendship blossomed between Matt and Sweat in 2010 when their housing first overlapped at the prison's so-called honor block, a special section of the prison for well-behaved inmates that let prisoners remain out of their cells for most of the day and have special jobs like assisting plumbers and electricians, according to a source and a former inmate.
"Despite their differences in age and personality, Sweat and Matt became friends, based in part on a shared interest in art," the report said. "Sweat recalled admiring Matt’s paintings, including one depicting a dog in which 'you could see every hair . . . [it] was absolutely beautiful.' Inspired by Matt, Sweat took up painting and drawing, and quickly developed his talents."
Matt and Sweat used their paintings and drawings as "a kind of prison currency" with the prison staff, the report said. "According to Sweat, 'When we do . . . paintings, we give it to you exceptionally cheap because we know that at some point we’re going to be in a bind, or we might need help with something.'"
Matt was expelled from the honor block in 2011, prompting Sweat to send him gifts of tobacco, rolling papers and food, the report said. Sweat later said that strengthened their friendship, according to the report.
By 2015, at the time of the escape, Matt was back on the honor block, and he and Sweat were housed in adjacent cells.
On June 6, 2015, Matt and Sweat broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility.
Almost immediately after his capture, Sweat bragged to police that the escape plan was all his idea, authorities said.
The inmates used power tools to cut through the back of their cells, broke through a brick wall, cut into a steam pipe and then slithered through it, finally emerging outside the prison walls through a manhole, officials said.
They had arranged hoodies and other clothing in their sheets to make it appear as if they were in their beds, officials said, leaving behind a note that read, "Have a nice day."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the escape "elaborate" and "sophisticated," adding, "If you were writing a movie plot, they would say this was overdone."
More than 1,500 law enforcement personnel, from 12 different state, local and federal agencies, were involved in what became the largest search in New York State Police history, a New York State Police spokesman told ABC News. The state police chased down more than 2,000 leads during the manhunt.
"It was very scary," Dannemora resident Kristina O'Neill recalled to ABC News this week. "One of the things that basically made you kind of cringe was the helicopters. Because they were just everywhere, all the time." She also said it was "disturbing" to go through police checkpoints in town.
But O'Neill, a mother of four boys, said she felt a "great sense of pride in our community" for the police officers who swarmed Dannemora to protect them.
Dannemora resident Jason Cerone described the escape as "unbelievable," but said he felt comfortable going about his daily life.
"With the amount of police presence -- they had posted armed correctional officers at every street corner -- I wasn't really scared," Cerone told ABC News this week. "But I found it unbelievable to think they got out and they may have just stayed in the town. The whole thing was just crazy."
Authorities later learned that after the two emerged outside, the men looked for prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell who had planned to meet them with a getaway car. But Mitchell -- whose husband worked at the prison as an industrial training supervisor -- got cold feet and didn't show, forcing the escapees to regroup.
Sweat allegedly told investigators he and Matt originally planned to flee to Mexico, but without Mitchell's car, they ditched the Mexico plan and decided to head to Canada.
Sweat later told authorities that soon after he and Matt escaped, people pulled up to a house on the block near the prison and asked the men what they were doing in their yard. Matt started to freak out, but Sweat told authorities that he stayed level-headed and convinced Matt to follow him into the woods.
On June 20, near Owls Head, New York, 20 miles from the prison, a man stopped by his unlocked hunting cabin and saw signs of activity, including a misplaced coffeepot, a missing shotgun and a map ripped off the wall, and he alerted authorities.
Authorities said Sweat later told them that Matt was prepared to take the cabin owner hostage with the shotgun, but Sweat was able to convince him to leave. However, in their rush to flee the scene, vital clues -- including a toothbrush and razor with their DNA -- fell out of Matt's pack.
Authorities later learned that at this point Sweat was getting fed up with the increasingly unstable Matt and decided to ditch him.
“Sweat knew that Matt was out of shape. Any of these cabins where he could find alcohol, he would drink,” Charles Guess of the New York State Police told ABC News’ "20/20" in 2015. “As his frustration level grew, he talked increasingly about harming members of the public or law enforcement, and Sweat really apparently wanted no part of that. He wanted to continue his odyssey and escape.”
One killer is stopped
After Sweat abandoned him, Matt moved on, but on June 26 Matt found himself surrounded by police near Elephant's Head, New York, about 50 miles away from the prison.
That day, officials had announced they had reason to believe Sweat and Matt were planning to head to Canada, so U.S. and Canadian law enforcement sent reinforcements in an effort to keep them from potentially making it out of the country.
A tactical team was deployed to a cabin and inside, the team noticed the smell of gunpowder.
Matt, armed with a 20-gauge shotgun, was laying in the woods, aiming at the agents. But as he prepared to shoot, he coughed and betrayed his position to the tactical team.
Authorities told him to put up his hands, but he didn't comply, and Matt was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, officials said.
Investigators then set up a perimeter in the area around where Matt was killed to try to corner Sweat, state police told ABC News, but Sweat managed to avoid them for another two days.
The manhunt comes to an end
After ditching Matt, Sweat later told authorities that he traveled at night, avoided locals and shaved his face.
Sweat, despite appearing to be the mastermind of the escape plot, also made a mistake that led to his capture.
It was on June 28, 2015, when he became anxious and decided to move in the daylight that he was spotted by a New York State Police sergeant.
That day, Sgt. Jay Cook was alone on a routine patrol in the area of Constable, New York, approximately 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border, when he spotted Sweat, who was not armed, on a road and ordered him to stop. When Sweat started to run, the sergeant opened fire, shooting and injuring Sweat.
THE INVESTIGATION AND WHERE THE KEY PLAYERS ARE NOW
Mitchell, 53, the prison tailor shop employee who backed out of meeting the escapees with her car outside the prison, is now in prison herself after she was convicted of helping the killers escape. She allegedly smuggled hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools into the prison in frozen hamburger meat, which a guard later gave to the inmates. She also allegedly bought six hacksaw blades and gave them directly to Matt, according to the report from the New York inspector general.
"The escape was possible only with the brazen assistance of Mitchell," the inspector general report said. "As early as mid-2014, Mitchell developed personal relationships with both inmates in the tailor shop she supervised. Over the next several months, Mitchell performed improper favors for Sweat and Matt, including sharing food with them in the shop, calling Matt’s daughter on his behalf, and smuggling into the prison numerous personal items for them."
The report said, "civilian supervisors and security staff were aware that both Mitchell and her husband frequently provided food to Sweat, Matt, and other inmates, but did not intervene."
According to the report, an inmate said he saw Mitchell giving Matt cookies, cakes and prepared meals like venison and biscuits. Another inmate said once Mitchell gave Sweat a Big Mac from McDonald’s.
In 2015, Mitchell allegedly agreed to flee with Sweat and Matt and helped collect items including guns, ammunition, camping gear and a compass, the report said.
"She professed her love for Sweat in notes she secretly sent him," the report said, but she also allegedly "engaged in numerous sexual encounters with Matt in the tailor shop."
"Mitchell, according to Sweat, also schemed with Matt to murder her husband," the report said. "Mitchell accepted from Matt several narcotic painkiller pills he had been prescribed by prison medical staff. Mitchell said she intended to surreptitiously administer the drugs to her husband to 'knock him out' prior to her leaving the house to pick up the escapees."
In 2015, Mitchell pleaded guilty to first-degree promoting prison contraband and fourth-degree criminal facilitation. She was sentenced to 2-1/3 years to 7 years in prison. At sentencing, her attorney, Stephen Johnston, said the prisoners used power tools to escape -- which Mitchell did not provide -- so they must have had some other assistance.
Mitchell wept at her sentencing, saying, "This is by far the worst mistake I have ever made in my life. I live with regret every day and will for the rest of my life."
Mitchell was denied parole in February 2017, with a state parole board saying she "was 'emotionally unstable and easily manipulated,' which allowed the inmates to talk her into helping them escape," The Associated Press reported. The parole board "chastised her for not telling anyone about the escape as it was happening and for failing to give a full, truthful disclosure of information to investigators or even to the parole board," the AP reported.
Her next parole hearing could take place in August, with an earliest possible release date of October.
Gene Palmer, a correctional officer at the prison, was arrested as well and jailed for giving the prisoners the frozen meat which contained the tools from Mitchell.
The inspector general report said even if Palmer was "unaware of what the meat contained, Palmer knew the meat alone was contraband, and that he was committing a crime and violating prison rules by transporting it."
Also, the moment Mitchell handed hacksaw blades to Matt went undetected because when Matt returned to his cell that day, he was with a correctional officer who was "almost certainly" Palmer, the inspector general said. "Palmer conceded that his practice was not to frisk inmates under escort from the shop, nor did he require that they pass through a metal detector on the return to their housing blocks," the report said.
Palmer's lawyer said he was remorseful and "had no idea that he was knowingly aiding" the prison break, the AP reported.
Palmer also accepted artwork from Matt – violating the policy of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the report said. Matt gave Palmer at least 10 paintings and three drawings, most depicting members of Palmer’s family, the report said.
Palmer, 59, pleaded guilty to first-degree promoting prison contraband, second-degree promoting prison contraband and official misconduct, and in February 2016 he was sentenced to six months in jail, according to Clinton County court officials.
Palmer served 128 days in the Clinton County Jail and was released in June 2016, a Clinton County Jail official said.
Sweat was hospitalized after he was shot and captured this day two years ago, and in July 2015, he was released from the hospital and transferred to prison.
Sweat, who was already serving life in prison when he escaped in 2015, is now serving life at the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Romulus, New York, which is about 280 miles south of Clinton, the correctional facility he escaped from. Sweat is in solitary confinement, a New York DOCCS spokesman said. He was placed in a 23-hour confinement unit where each cell has a bed, a writing platform, a toilet, a sink and a shower, the DOCCS said.
CHANGES AT THE PRISON
The 2016 inspector general report found numerous security failures at the prison the duo escaped from, including: the failure to search bags employees brought into the facility, which allowed Mitchell to sneak tools in; and skipped prisoner counts which allowed Sweat to work on the escape passage and then allowed the two killers to break out.
The report also cited skipped cell searches. "Within the year preceding the escape, multiple cells were never searched, including Sweat’s cell," the report said. "Although a computer produced a random list of cells for search each day, security staff selected one cell from the list that would actually be searched, thereby injecting discretion and possible bias into a process intended to be objective."
"Cell searches were hasty and cursory," the report said, citing a "search of Matt’s cell on March 21, 2015 failed to detect the 18½- inch-by-14½-inch hole in the rear wall of cell that is only approximately 48 square feet. A proper cell search would have found the breach and thwarted the escape."
The report also noted that "Mitchell’s improper interactions" with inmates were known to her supervisors and observed by correction officers but "no effective action was taken."
The report mentioned oversight failures by Clinton management and the corrections department, as well.
Besides Palmer and Mitchell, who both resigned, seven other prison employees "resigned or retired in lieu of other discipline," the AP reported in June 2016.
The inspector general report made recommendations including: following the rules for front gate checks, inmate counts, cell searches and tailor shop supervision; strengthening metal detector use and tool control; installing security cameras; and improving DOCCS's "oversight of security operations at Clinton and other prisons."
The DOCCS said in a statement that it has "implemented a majority of the recommendations from the Office of Inspector General (OSIG) and the Department continues to work with the OSIG, as well as being actively engaged with the unions on other initiatives regarding the safety and security of staff and inmates."
ABC News' Michael Mendelsohn, Cat Rakowski and Alexa Valiente contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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