Heavily-armed law enforcement officers and trained dogs continue to scour the area around the Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York, where two convicted murderers – allegedly with help from a female prison employee – escaped.
But as time passes – it’s been nine days now since David Sweat and Richard Matt cut through a steel wall and crawled through a steam pipe to a manhole on the street outside the prison – officials are beginning to acknowledge the pair may be far away by now.
"We don't know if they're still in the area or if they are in Mexico by now,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference. “Enough time has transpired, but we're following up every lead the best we can."
Meanwhile, more information is emerging about the escape.
In the weeks leading up to the escape, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie suggests that Sweat and Matt may have been sneaking out of their cells under the cover of darkness to rehearse their escape in tunnels, CNN reports.
Other prisoners interviewed since the escape report seeing the two men with cell phones, which are considered prison contraband. With whom were they communicating?
Prison tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell has been charged with providing the two escapees with hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.
The power tools Matt and Sweat used to cut holes in their cell walls and a steam pipe apparently were provided by another accomplice or stolen from contractors working at the prison.
Officials say the plan was for Mrs. Mitchell to meet the men outside the prison walls and then drive them to a location several hours away, but she had a change of heart.
Since her arrest last week, Mrs. Mitchell, whose husband also works at the prison in Dannemora, NY, has been transferred to the Rensselaer County Correctional Facility about 150 miles away, officials said, in order to avoid the distraction of having her in the vicinity of the manhunt for Matt and Sweat.
That Ms. Mitchell had become so close to one of the prisoners that she agreed to help them did not come as a total surprise to prison authorities.
Within the past year, officials looked into whether she had improper ties to Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff's deputy. The investigation didn't turn up anything solid enough to warrant disciplinary charges against her, according to District Attorney Wylie.
(Sweat was serving a life sentence. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the kidnap, torture, and dismemberment of his former boss.)
At the press conference, Gov. Cuomo addressed the issue of relationships involving prisoners and correctional workers.
"I understand prisons run on a delicate balance," Cuomo said. "And having a good relationship between the guards and the inmates, guards and the employees, employees and the inmates is important. But, there's a line. And when the line is stepped, then action has to be taken."
Mitchell’s next court appearance is Monday. She faces eight years in prison if convicted.