His wife is accused of helping two convicted murderers break out of a New York prison. And the escape plan, a source says, also included a plot to end his life.
But how much did Lyle Mitchell know?
That’s one question investigators are asking as they search for two fugitives in a massive manhunt.
The answer depends on whom you ask.
A source with direct knowledge of the investigation told CNN that prison tailor Joyce Mitchell knew the inmates had plotted to kill her husband, told him about their plans to break out of the facility and warned him that his life could be in danger.
But a lawyer representing Lyle Mitchell said the husband, who also worked in prison’s tailoring block, was kept in the dark.
“He didn’t know anything about the escape plan,” attorney Peter Dumas said.
A jailhouse visit
At this point, investigators don’t believe Lyle Mitchell was involved in plotting the escape, the source with direct knowledge of the investigation said.
On Tuesday, Lyle Mitchell was face to face with his wife for the first time since her arrest last week. She’s accused of sneaking hacksaw blades, chisels, drill bits, a punch and other contraband into the convicts’ hands before they broke out.
The couple spent an hour together and were separated by glass, speaking over a phone in a private, unmonitored conversation, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said.
Lyle Mitchell was supportive, and his wife seemed comforted by his visit — her first since her arrest, the sheriff said.
Joyce Mitchell’s attorney, Stephen Johnston, said he did not know what the two talked about.
“All I know is that he said that he is standing by her, so that’s what he told me when I spoke to him,” the attorney told reporters.
Asked about his client’s state of mind, he said, “She is distraught, very weepy and very upset.”Dumas said Lyle Mitchell is also struggling to deal with what’s happened, and the revelation that “possibly there was a plan to do some harm to him.”
“He’s very confused. It’s just a lot that’s been thrown on his plate right now,” Dumas said. “He’s kind of reeling.”
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie has not commented much on the husband, other than to say he’s under investigation.
Relationships under scrutiny
Investigators are looking into whether other prison workers were involved in the escape and whether other inmates might have helped create some type of diversion before, during or after Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped, the source said.
Joyce Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to the two charges brought against her and has been talking to authorities. If convicted, she could face up to eight years behind bars.
Authorities are investigating whether the two inmates threatened Mitchell to force her to help, the New York state official told CNN. Investigators believe Mitchell began getting cold feet about executing the plan but possibly had agreed to be the getaway driver because of threats to her and her husband, the official said.
But her relationship with the prisoners was years in the making, authorities said.
She’d been investigated in the past for an inappropriate relationship with Sweat that led corrections officials to move him out of the tailor shop in 2013 and keep them separated, said Wylie, the district attorney.
That’s the year when she started having a sexual relationship with Matt, the source said.
The sexual relationship took place at the tailor shop in the Clinton Correctional Facility, the only known place the two were together, the source said.
Search area grows
With few clues pointing toward where Matt and Sweat went after they escaped, investigators are changing tack. It‘s day 11 of the search, and now the area hundreds of law enforcement officers are combing is expanding, New York State Police said Tuesday evening.
Teams will be redeployed to new areas near the prison in Dannemora, New York, police said, saying the shifting search zone was based on information uncovered so far in the hunt for the fugitives.
More than 800 local, state and federal officers are popping open trunks, peering into cars and scouring heavily wooded areas. Canine units are also still searching for a scent that might lead police to Matt and Sweat, who escaped from the maximum-security facility known as “Little Siberia” in upstate New York on June 6.
Motion detectors and cameras have been placed in the woods, and an airplane able to fly at high altitude and detect movements on the ground is aiding in the search, a New York state official said. But despite promising leads, the official said, the search has gone cold.
Authorities are also offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the escaped inmates’ arrests.
It’s not clear how much has been spent, but judging from the boots on the ground, it can’t be cheap.
Police have developed 1,200 leads, according to New York State Police. But so far it’s not clear whether any of them will pan out. Authorities have said the killers could be anywhere — in Vermont, Mexico or still be in the woods near the prison.
Despite promising leads last week — including an abandoned campfire, human tracks and abloodhound picking up a possible scent — hopes of finding Matt and Sweat anytime soon appear to be on the wane, the state official said.