MALONE, N.Y. — Former prison escapee David Sweat is talking to authorities, a source close to the investigation tells CNN.
Sweat, who was recaptured Sunday after three weeks on the run, has told authorities the original plan was for prison employee Joyce Mitchell to pick him and fellow inmate Richard Matt up and head to Mexico. According to the source, when Mitchell didn’t show up, Sweat and Matt had to improvise.
The two were together until five days ago, when Sweat decided to leave Matt because he was slowing him down, the source added.
A day after a New York state trooper’s good aim put an end to fugitive inmate David Sweat’s escape bid, the convicted murderer remained in critical condition Monday, receiving treatment under the watchful eye of law enforcement and security guards, a hospital official said.
And, for the first time in more than three weeks, upstate New York residents awoke to a day that wouldn’t involve navigating police roadblocks or the fear of encountering a desperate and dangerous escapee with little to lose.
“It’s just been really hard on everybody,” said Steve Lashway, who owns a meat market near Clinton Correctional Facility, the prison from which Sweat and fellow inmate Richard Matt escaped. “It lasted 23 days, but I think it probably felt like 23 weeks to most people.”
On Twitter, area resident Kate Messner echoed the sentiment.
“It’s been a long 23 days, but this morning, the woods just feel like woods again,” she said.
The 22-day manhunt for Sweat ended Sunday when the fugitive was spotted just 2 miles from the Canadian border. He made it closer to Canada than his fellow escapee. Matt was found and killed Friday near Malone, New York.
New York State Police Sgt. Jay Cook spotted Sweat near a barn in the sleepy New York town of Constable. Sweat bolted, and the officer gave chase.
“At some point, running across a field, he realized that Sweat was going to make it to a tree line, and possibly could have disappeared, and he fired two shots,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico told reporters.
Sweat, who was unarmed, was struck twice in the torso. No one else was hurt.
He is being treated in a secure area at Albany Medical Center, according to the hospital official, who declined to be identified. “Multiple people” from law enforcement and hospital security are guarding him, the official said. The hospital has a security team that is trained to react to trauma situations to ensure the safety of both patients and staff, the official said.
Authorities and local residents praised Cook’s actions, calling him a hero for bringing Sweat in.
His actions were appropriate, Maj. Charles Guess of the New York State Police told CNN’s “New Day” on Monday.
He positively identified Sweat, repeatedly commanded him to stop, engaged him in a lengthy foot chase and only shot him after coming to the conclusion that he was close to disappearing behind the tree line, Guess said.
Ed Gavin, former deputy warden for the New York City Department of Corrections, agreed the trooper was justified.
“Article 35 of the (New York) penal law permits you to use deadly physical force to stop a fleeing felon who is either charged with a felony or convicted of a felony,” Gavin said. “So the police officer was spot on.”
A photo exclusively obtained by CNN shows Sweat in custody moments after his capture. He appears bloodied in the photo and is wearing a camouflage outfit, not prison garb.
“I can only assume he was going for the border, that he was that close,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico said investigators haven’t yet interviewed Sweat, but that they hope to soon.
It’s critically important that Sweat stay alive, officials said, so authorities can learn exactly how he and Matt escaped — and who helped them.
But for now, “the nightmare is finally over,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “We wish it didn’t happen in the first place. But if you have to have it happen, this is how you want it to end.”
Guess praised what he called “dogged determination” among investigating agencies and a “full court press” that led to Sweat’s capture.
Bug repellent and Pop-Tarts
Not only did Sweat manage to swap his prison garb for camouflage, he also had a backpack full of supplies, the governor said.
“He had maps, he had a certain amount of tools, he had bug repellent, he had wipes, he had Pop-Tarts,” Cuomo told CNN’s “New Day.”
It’s not clear whether Sweat acquired those supplies before his escape, or if he stole or collected them while on the run.
As for Matt, an examination of his body revealed “bug bites on the lower extremities, blisters, and minor abrasions consistent with living in the woods for three weeks,” state police said.
After Matt was killed, authorities could smell alcohol on his body from a few feet away, according to a law enforcement source briefed on the investigation.
Evidence suggests Matt had been ill, possibly from contaminated food or water, the source said.
What’s next for Sweat
In addition to his current life sentence, Sweat will probably spend at least seven years in solitary confinement, said Jeff Dumas, a retired sergeant at Clinton Correctional Facility.
So what incentive would Sweat have to talk to investigators? Possibly getting out of solitary confinement early, Dumas said.
“It’s a bargaining chip for him now,” he said. “Within the department, he’s going to be locked into a cell, 23 out of 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement. … He’s going to try to use that chip with New York state so he isn’t locked into 23 out of 24 (hours) for an extended period of time.”
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said authorities very much want to learn how Sweat escaped and survived for more then three weeks on the run. But he seemed to limit the prospect of a plea bargain on escape charges in return for those details.
“There’s certainly no plea bargain that we could put out there,” Wylie told CNN. “The Department of Corrections obviously wants information, they want answers as well relative to how this escape occurred. So on that end, whatever benefit that may be for David Sweat, only the time will tell.”
Even if Sweat talks, he might not have an incentive to tell the truth. Dumas said.
“That’s what you have to worry about — what’s in it for him?” Dumas said. “We will see if this guy is narcissistic, if he has that type of ego that he wants to display everything that he’s done and actually tell the truth, or if he’s going to mislead investigators and just play a game to entertain himself while he’s locked in.”
Relief all around
Both Sweat’s mother and the family of Sweat’s murder victim expressed relief after the killer’s capture.
Sweat was serving a life sentence for the gruesome death of Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia in 2002.
“To have someone you loved be ambushed, shot 15 times and then run over with a car simply for stopping to check unusual activity in a town park … is a pain that no one can understand if you have not been through it first hand,” Tarsia’s relatives said in a statement Sunday night.
They thanked the 1,300-plus law enforcement officers who have searched for Sweat and Matt.
“We are eternally grateful for the hard work and long hours that they have put in, and so thankful that no innocent persons were hurt in this hunt.”
Even Sweat’s mother was relieved after her son’s capture.
“I was just hoping that he would turn himself in,” Pamela Sweat told Time Warner Cable News. “We started crying because (he) wasn’t killed.”
And area residents can walk outside their homes now without the fear that one of the escapees might be hiding nearby.
“We were so nervous, we’ve had our houses locked down,” Constable resident Audra Buchanan said. For weeks, she hasn’t let her 9-year-old daughter go out to play. Now, she can.
What went wrong
With the manhunt now over, authorities can turn their full attention to how Matt and Sweat got out in the first place — and who may have helped them.
The pair used power tools to carve their way out of the Clinton Correctional Facility on June 6.
Prison tailor Joyce Mitchell, who has been charged with aiding the escapees, has admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat, a law enforcement official said last week.
Matt and Sweat had received special privileges for good behavior, such as having hot plates and refrigerators in their cells.
But even months before the escape, the official said, Mitchell used baked goods to win favors for Matt and Sweat — including asking one guard to pass frozen hamburger meat to Matt, bypassing the prison’s metal detector in a violation of policy.
Gene Palmer, a guard on the honor block where Matt and Sweat were housed, was arrested and charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, destroying evidence and official misconduct.
Palmer’s attorney, Andrew Brockway, said his client was unaware of the meat’s contents when he was asked to get it to Matt.
And there may be more prison employees under scrutiny.
Investigators have been questioning guards about what conversations they had with the escapees about life outside the prison, according to a law enforcement official.
They believe Sweat and Matt had gathered information for almost a year about hunting cabins and the fields around the prison to help them navigate the terrain.