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Richard Matt, Escaped Prisoner in New York Manhunt, Is Fatally Shot

The New York Times logo The New York Times 6/27/2015 By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM and BENJAMIN MUELLER
FILE - At left, in a May 21, 2015, file photo released by the New York State Police is David Sweat. At right, in a May 20, 2015, file photo released by the New York State Police is Richard Matt. © New York State Police via AP, File FILE - At left, in a May 21, 2015, file photo released by the New York State Police is David Sweat. At right, in a May 20, 2015, file photo released by the New York State Police is Richard Matt.

Richard W. Matt, one of the two convicted murderers who engineered an elaborate escape from New York’s largest prison, was shot and killed on Friday by a federal agent, the authorities said, ending one prong of a three-week manhunt that extended across large stretches of the state’s northern terrain.

A team of agents from the federal Customs and Border Protection agency found Mr. Matt in the woods in Malone, N.Y., after he fired a shot at the back of a camping trailer while on foot, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference. Officers heard him cough as he fled, and a federal agent killed him when Mr. Matt, still armed with a 20-gauge shotgun, refused orders to put up his hands, the authorities said.

On Friday night, officers closed in on the other inmate, David Sweat, 35, who was believed to be penned inside a perimeter of law enforcement officers, Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico of the New York State Police said at the news conference.

Officers had not seen Mr. Sweat, but they believed that he had been near Mr. Matt around the time Mr. Matt shot at the camping trailer, the authorities said.

Mr. Matt’s killing drew the curtains back on a mystery that has hung over the search: how the inmates, wily friends who won the good will of prison workers and learned rudimentary engineering skills, planned to elude more than 1,100 officers after their escape.

After a civilian prison employee failed to show up with a getaway car after the escape, any alternative plans did not carry them very far.

Mr. Matt, 49, was killed about 40 miles from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y.

For all the intricate planning that helped the inmates cut holes in their cell walls and slither through pipes underneath the prison, the killers were apparently forced, in the last days of their getaway, to move between hunting cabins under the cover of dense woods and darkness.

The developments were greeted with relief by residents of northern New York who had begun locking their doors and readying their firearms, some of them so on edge that they called the police when they heard a faint rustling in the woods.

“You never want to see anyone lose their life,” Mr. Cuomo said at the news conference on Friday night in Malone. “But I would remind people that Mr. Matt was an escaped murderer from a state prison.”

The shot he fired at the camping trailer was Mr. Matt’s last known act of violence in a brutal criminal career. He was serving a sentence of 25 years to life after being convicted of murder in 2008 after being charged with killing and dismembering a former boss. Before his trial he fled to Mexico, where he was sentenced to 20 years for fatally stabbing another American during an attempted robbery.

Mr. Sweat was sentenced to life without parole in 2003 for killing a Broome County, N.Y., deputy sheriff. The police said Mr. Sweat shot the deputy sheriff 22 times and then, while he was still alive, ran him over with a car.

Law enforcement officers converged this week on Franklin County after investigators found DNA June 20 matching that of the two killers in a hunting cabin about 15 miles west of the prison, and about three miles off any paved roadway. On Wednesday night, the police received a report of a break-in in another hunting cabin, this one in Malone, the authorities said. Evidence indicated that Mr. Matt had been at that scene.

On Friday morning, the police found candy wrappers and other provisions in a nearby camp, and the search intensified, Superintendent D’Amico said at the news conference.

Just before 2 p.m., someone towing a camper vehicle heard a loud noise, and pulled over to check for a flat tire. Instead, the person found a bullet hole in the back of the camper. The person called the authorities and law enforcement officers responded.

Investigators smelled gunfire in a nearby cabin, and then heard coughs as they pursued Mr. Matt into the woods. A team from federal Customs and Border Protection “told him to put up his hands and at that time he was shot when he didn’t comply,” Superintendent D’Amico said.

Mr. Matt did not fire any shots at the agents, nor was he believed to have said anything to the agents, he said.

Roadblocks set up on Friday evening near Lake Titus in Malone kept residents and reporters away from what appeared to be tense law enforcement activity in the woods. Shortly after 5 p.m., a dozen state troopers with firearms stood 50 feet apart along Fayette Road near Route 30, just north of Lake Titus. They stared intently into the woods flanking the dirt road on the south, guns drawn. “The dogs are out,” one trooper said.

The police had closed off Route 30, a main north-south corridor through Malone. Tina LaMour, who lives near Lake Titus, said she was pleased at least one escapee had been stopped.

“I’m relieved,” she said. “I would rather that they caught them alive and brought them back. But I really didn’t think that either of them would want to go alive.”

Mitch Johnson, who lives in nearby Owls Head, N.Y., said his cousin was the one who alerted the police to suspicious activity at a hunting cabin near his home on Friday morning.

The cousin, Bobby Willett, of Malone, N.Y., had been checking on a hunting camp he has when he noticed a bottle of liquor that had not been there earlier. “There was a bottle of liquor there today that wasn’t there yesterday,” Mr. Johnson said. “They probably saw him coming from the woods and then ran out,” Mr. Johnson added, referring to the inmates.

Mr. Willett called the authorities, according to Mr. Johnson.

The escape set off a statewide search on foot and by air, with hundreds of officers marching in tight formations through woods and checking on more than 2,300 tips.

The breakout, rare in its complexity and precision, relied on a combination of power tools and trickery, as well as alleged assistance from inside and outside the prison.

The men used dummies fashioned from sweatshirts to trick corrections officers into believing they were in bed and asleep. The men, who were in adjoining cells, each cut through the walls of their cells, then made their way into the bowels of the prison, cutting through steel, and emerged from a manhole into a neighborhood of vacant storefronts and clapboard houses just outside the prison. Officials said the inmates escaped late on Friday, June 5, or early Saturday, June 6.

But their getaway plans seemed to become haphazard after a civilian prison employee, Joyce E. Mitchell, failed to meet them with a getaway car, instead checking herself into the hospital for a panic attack. She was later arrested and charged with supplying the men with tools that aided in their escape, including hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.

A corrections officer, Gene Palmer, is accused of giving the men needle-nose pliers and a flathead screwdriver in exchange for paintings by Mr. Matt. Mr. Palmer, who was placed on administrative leave, was arrested and charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct.

In recounting the crimes committed by Mr. Matt and Mr. Sweat, Mr. Cuomo noted the continuing law enforcement effort by an array of agencies to catch the remaining escapee. “These are dangerous, dangerous men,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Matt Apuzzo in Washington, Joshua Jamerson and Rick Rojas in New York, and Susanne Craig and Lisa W. Foderaro in Malone.


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