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New York prison worker pleads guilty in escape of 2 killers

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - Joyce Mitchell, the northern New York prison worker accused of smuggling hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat to two killers who later broke out and spent more than two weeks on the run, pleaded guilty Tuesday.

Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, wept as she pleaded guilty during her arraignment Tuesday morning to charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal facilitation.

She faces a sentence ranging from 2 1/2 years to 7 years in prison under the terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. A sentencing date was not announced.

The 51-year-old Mitchell was jailed on June 12, less than a week after the elaborately staged June 6 escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat. Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26, about 30 miles west of the prison; Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later and sent to another prison.

Mitchell admitted providing hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool and a screwdriver to Matt. Authorities say she became close to the pair, agreed to be their getaway driver and even discussed killing her husband. But she backed out at the last moment, forcing Matt and Sweat to flee on foot after they emerged from a manhole near the maximum-security prison.

Prison employee allegedly had sexual relations with escapee

Mitchell was suspended without pay from her job when she was arrested and has been in jail since then.

Authorities said she smuggled hacksaw blades and other tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat she placed in a refrigerator in the tailor shop. They said corrections officer Gene Palmer then took the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section where inmates are allowed to cook their meals.

Palmer was released on bail after being arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband. Authorities have said they do not believe Palmer knew of the escape plan and that they do not think knowledge of the plot went beyond Matt, Sweat and Mitchell.

Authorities say Matt and Sweat cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to tunnels, broke through a brick wall, cut into and out of a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away.