RAY BROOK, New York — A prison escapee who eluded an army of searchers in the woods for three weeks is still cooperating with investigators a month after his capture, the state police major who led the manhunt said Wednesday.
Maj. Charles Guess said every interview with David Sweat has been fruitful and has helped investigators corroborate information as the "enormous" investigation continues into the June 6 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility by Sweat and fellow inmate Richard Matt.
"His recollection has become improved over the last several interviews," Guess said at a state police barracks in the Adirondacks.
Sweat is being housed at the Special Housing Unit at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York. Matt was killed by police days before Sweat was captured.
Police now know about 85 percent of the winding route the two convicted killers took while on the run though the heavily wooded area west of the prison in far upstate New York. Investigators have identified five to six hunting camps the men broke into, usually being selective in what they took so as not to tip off cabin owners of a break-in. Sweat said instead of stealing a map on a wall he would memorize it, Guess said.
"They're both cunning individuals," Guess said.
Matt was shot and killed by searchers June 26 about 30 miles west of the prison. Sweat was captured near the Canadian border two days later by state police Sgt. Jay Cook, who spotted the camouflage-clad escapee walking along a road.
"Sweat just indicated like, 'Hey, what? Who, me?' when he turned to respond to Sergeant Cook's order to stop," said Guess.
Cook immediately recognized Sweat and shot him twice after the escapee fled toward a stand of trees.
The investigation reached a milestone Tuesday with a guilty plea from former prison worker Joyce Mitchell on charges of aiding the pair by smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools used in their escape. In statements Mitchell made to police, she said she became "caught up in the fantasy" of the elaborate breakout planned by the two killers but backed out at the last moment.
She also said that at Matt's direction she called a number multiple times to arrange the pickup of a package. But she never picked up anything after failed efforts to connect with anyone at the number.
"The package was supposed to be the same size as the food items I normally bring in for lunch," Mitchell told interrogators. "I do not know what was supposed to be in the packages, and I never picked any of them up."
She said she also was supposed to get money from a package she never picked up as part of preparations that were to include taking a cellphone, a GPS device, cloths, a gun, tents, sleeping bags, fishing poles and other gear to the planned rendezvous with Matt and Sweat.
Mitchell also told investigators that Matt had given her two pills to drug her husband as part of the escape plan.
"The day they were supposed to escape I was supposed to give my husband, Lyle, two pills. These pills were intended to knock Lyle out so I could leave the house," she said.
During the time she was being questioned by state police, she flushed the pills down a toilet.
Guess would not elaborate on Mitchell's statements, citing her cooperation with an ongoing probe by the office of state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, who on Tuesday described the escape as the product of a "systemic breakdown" at the prison in Dannemora.
Asked if Mitchell's statements about packages from outside the prison indicated there were other participants in the escape plan, Guess said, "I think that characterizing it as others on the outside being involved in the plot of the escape itself is at this time still a stretch."
He said investigators are looking at people with whom Mitchell and the escapees had contact.
"At this point, we cannot characterize anyone else as actually being involved in the escape plot itself," he said.
Authorities have said a prison guard unwittingly helped the inmates when he gave them frozen meat in which Mitchell had hidden tools, but they don't believe he knew of the escape plan. The guard was arrested on charges including promoting prison contraband.