Prison worker who helped 2 killers escape gets up to 7 years

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Joyce Mitchell 'Prayed and Prayed and Prayed' for Recapture of Inmates

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (AP) -- A sobbing former prison worker who helped two murderers escape from a maximum-security lockup said she regretted her "horrible mistake" as she was sentenced Monday to up to seven years behind bars as part of a plea deal.

Joyce Mitchell apologized profusely as she was sentenced to 2 1/3 to seven years in prison, saying she acted in part out of fear. She also might have to contribute to the $120,000 in restitution the state is seeking for damages to Clinton Correctional Facility from the brazen June 6 escape. The judge showed little sympathy as he handed down the sentence and set a Nov. 6 restitution hearing.

"If I could take it all back, I would," she told the judge. "I never intended for any of this to happen."

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Mitchell entered the courtroom in tears and cried throughout most of the 35-minute sentencing. She apologized to the community, her former co-workers and law enforcement officers for the weeks of fear and disruption the search for the killers caused.

Mitchell, 51, had pleaded guilty to charges related to providing hacksaw blades and other tools to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss. Sweat was serving life without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy in 2002.

See photos of Joyce Mitchell in court:

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Joyce Mitchell, prison worker who helped NY felons escape
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Prison worker who helped 2 killers escape gets up to 7 years
Joyce Mitchell cries as she sits with her attorney Stephen Johnston in court on Tuesday July 28, 2015 in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Mitchell, an instructor in the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to charges of aiding two inmates convicted of murder by smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools to the pair, who broke out and spent three weeks on the run in June. She faces a sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP, Pool)
Joyce Mitchell raises her hand during a court appearance with her attorney Stephen Johnston on Tuesday July 28, 2015 in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Mitchell, an instructor in the tailor shop at the Clinton Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to charges of aiding two inmates convicted of murder by smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools to the pair, who broke out and spent three weeks on the run in June. She faces a sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP, Pool)
This Friday, June 12, 2015 photo provided by the New York State Police shows Joyce Mitchell. Mitchell is accused of helping inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. on June 6, 2015. Authorities say that Mitchell, a tailor shop instructor at the prison provided some of the tools that the men used in their escape. They are still at large. (New York State Police via AP)
Joyce Mitchell, left, stands with her attorney Keith Bruno as she is arraigned in City Court on Friday, June 12, 2015, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Mitchell is accused of helping two convicted killers escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, Pool)
Joyce Mitchell is arraigned in City Court on Friday, June 12, 2015, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Mitchell is accused of helping two convicted killers escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, Pool)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 12: Joyce Mitchell is led into court June 12, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell was arrested Friday for allegedly helping two prisoners escape the maximum security section of the Clinton Correctional Facility nearly a week ago. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) , a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, is lead from Plattsburgh Ciy Court after a hearing on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie speaks to the media after a hearing for Joyce Mitchell, a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, outside Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears with her lawyer Stephen Johnston before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell, a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, is lead from Plattsburgh Ciy Court after a hearing on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears with her lawyer Stephen Johnston before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
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The pair eluded more than 1,000 searchers who combed the thick woods and bogs of northern New York for much of the next three weeks. Matt was killed by a border agent June 26. Sweat was wounded and captured by a state trooper two days later.

Mitchell admitted becoming close with the pair while she worked as an instructor in the prison tailor shop. She told investigators she agreed to be their getaway driver before backing out after suffering a panic attack. The escapees were forced to scrub plans to head to Mexico and instead fled on foot after emerging from a manhole.

Judge Kevin Ryan noted that the resulting search disrupted life in a wide swath of the region for three weeks.

See pictures from the infamous prison escape:

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Convicted felons escape from NY prison - Escape photos
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Prison worker who helped 2 killers escape gets up to 7 years
FILE - This combination of file photos released by the New York State Police shows David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt. Matt, who staged a brazen escape from an upstate maximum-security prison with Sweat and had been hunted for three weeks was shot and killed Friday, June 26, 2015. Sweat was shot and captured on Sunday, June 28. (New York State Police via AP, File)
An annotated aerial image of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. shows where the prisoners escaped and provides details of the prison. Included are mugshots of the escapees and description of their crimes. (Image via AP)
A manhole cover that was part of a prison escape is shown, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. The 11th day of searching for two prisoners that escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility began Tuesday with roadblocks still in place. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A manhole cover is shown in an intersection, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. Eleven days earlier the manhole was part of an escape route for two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility, rear. The 11th day of searching began Tuesday with roadblocks still in place. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Razor wire covers a fence at the Clinton Correctional Facility, Monday, June 15, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. State police say more than 800 law enforcement officers are pushing on in the hunt for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt 10 days after the two escaped from the maximum-security prison in rural New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate Richard Matt is seen. Matt and fellow inmate David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate David Sweat is seen. Sweat and fellow inmate Richard Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
An employee leaves the Clinton Correctional Facility, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. Search teams are back in the woods of northern New York looking for two convicted murderers who broke out of the maximum-security prison a week and a half ago. More than 800 law enforcement officers are in the 12th day of searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
An employee leaves the Clinton Correctional Facility, Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in Dannemora, N.Y. Search teams are back in the woods of northern New York looking for two convicted murderers who broke out of the maximum-security prison a week and a half ago. More than 800 law enforcement officers are in the 12th day of searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) , a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, is lead from Plattsburgh Ciy Court after a hearing on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the New York State Police shows Gene Palmer on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. The maximum-security prison guard believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two inmates before they escaped was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said. (New York State Police via AP)
A New York State Police officer escorts suspended Clinton Correctional Facility guard Gene Palmer, left, from Plattsburgh Town Court in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Palmer is believed to have delivered tools inside frozen meat to two Clinton Correctional Facility inmates before they escaped on June 6. He faces charges including promoting prison contraband and tampering with physical evidence, state police said. (Rob Fountain/The Press-Republican via AP)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo walks past jail cells where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shoes a note where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) is shown the manhole where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
A guard house stands above the wall of the Clinton Correctional Facility, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. State police say more than 800 law enforcement officers are pushing on in the hunt for convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt 10 days after the two escaped from the maximum-security prison in rural New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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"A large portion of the local population were terrorized," he said. "Many were forced to flee their homes."

Mitchell said she didn't tell anyone about the inmates' escape plan because Matt had threatened to harm her family, particularly her husband, Lyle, who also worked in the prison.

"I was fearful of Mr. Matt threatening to kill my husband and wanting to know where my son and mother live," she told the judge.

But the judge rebuffed her claim that she was protecting her family by not divulging the escape plot to authorities.

"I just don't find that explanation credible," Ryan said.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie echoed that sentiment outside court afterward, telling reporters that "she once again is making excuses." He called her apology an insult to the searchers and victims.

Lyle Mitchell gave his wife a thumbs up as she entered and exited the court. She mouthed "I love you" to him as guards led her away.

Officials said the convicts used tools to cut their way out of their adjacent cells and get into the catwalk between the cell block walls. They crawled through an underground steam pipe and reached a street near the prison walls through a manhole.

Sweat, who is being housed in a solitary cell at a central New York prison, faces charges in the escape.

A prison guard, Gene Palmer, who authorities have said unwittingly abetted the escape plot, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of promoting prison contraband. Officials said he gave the two prisoners frozen hamburger meat Mitchell used to hide the hacksaw blades she smuggled to Sweat and Matt.

Wylie said after court that negotiations were continuing in those two cases. He said Sweat also could face restitution.

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