(Adds lawyer says Palmer to plead not guilty, paragraph 8)
By Pete DeMola
CADYVILLE, N.Y., June 24 (Reuters) – A second New York prison employee was arrested on Wednesday for the escape of two convicted murderers who have eluded a massive police manhunt for almost three weeks, police said.
Clinton Correctional Facility officer Gene Palmer, 57, allegedly took frozen hamburger meat embedded with smuggled tools to the inmates, Richard Matt and David Sweat, CNN quoted Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie as saying.
Wylie also said Palmer escorted the men into the catwalk area behind their cells to fix electrical breakers so the inmates could use hot plates to cook food. Authorities have said Matt and Sweat used the catwalks during their June 6 escape.
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, cut through the steel walls of their adjoining cells, slipped through a steam pipe and emerged from a manhole outside the prison’s fortress-like walls in Dannemora, New York, according to authorities.
They used tools brought into the prison by Joyce Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop, who is charged with aiding their escape, Wylie has said.
New York State Police said Palmer was arrested and charged with promoting prison contraband, destroying evidence and official misconduct.
Palmer is set to be arraigned in Plattsburgh Town Court late on Wednesday, the police said in a statement.
Palmer’s lawyer, Andrew Brockway, told CNN that Palmer would plead not guilty and was cooperating with authorities. “He’s a man of integrity who made some mistakes,” Brockway said.
Police said the escapees may have at least one gun from a cache of weapons in a cabin where they hid about 20 miles (30 km) from the maximum security prison.
Major Charles Guess of the New York State Police told a news conference that Sweat and Matt were believed to have been last seen entering woods near the cabin in Owls Head, New York, on Saturday.
A bloody sock and other items found at the cabin, which is reportedly owned by corrections officers, were tested for DNA, and Guess said police had “100 percent assurance they were in that area.”
More than 1,000 law enforcement officers scoured 75 square miles (194 square km) in rugged Franklin County, east of the prison.
Mitchell, the training supervisor, supplied hacksaw blades and a screwdriver bit to the men, whose good behavior landed them on the prison’s honor block. (Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Susan Heavey and Eric Beech)
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