NEW YORK— David Sweat and Richard Matt didn’t just pull off a grandiose prison escape — they actually did it twice.
And through it all, Sweat was the mastermind — or at least that’s what he’s telling investigators, a local district attorney said.
From his hospital bed in Albany, Sweat is revealing more details about the New York prison break that continues to baffle seemingly everyone but himself.
An escape before the escape
Sweat said the plot to break out of Clinton Correctional Facility actually started in January, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told CNN.
Finally, after five months of strategizing, Sweat and Matt made a practice run.
One night before prison tailor Joyce Mitchell was supposed to meet them at a manhole, Sweat and Matt escaped from their cells, a New York state official said.
They navigated through a maze of tunnels and pipes before popping out of a manhole. They looked around, realized there were too many houses in sight, and decided to try for another manhole the next night.
“To make a dry run and … have the ability to escape, and then go back in, it is a little baffling,” Wylie told NBC News.
So why didn’t the guards notice? It’s not clear, but the state Inspector General’s office has been looking into whether guards had fallen asleep, officials told CNN.
After rampant speculation over what power tools the pair used, Sweat told investigators he and Matt used only hacksaws to carve through their cell walls and a steam pipe inside the prison, the district attorney told CNN.
Mitchell, the prison tailor, has admitted to smuggling hacksaw blades by hiding them in frozen hamburger meat and then having the meat delivered to Matt, a law enforcement official said last week.
She has been arrested and charged with promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation.
Another employee, Gene Palmer, is accused of taking the meat to the inmates. He’s charged with promoting dangerous prison contraband, two counts of destroying evidence and one count of official misconduct.
Dozen prison employees put on leave
But the probe extends far beyond Mitchell and Palmer — and well beyond the escape.
Three members of the prison’s executive team, along with nine security staff employees, have been placed on paid administrative leave as part of the review of the escape, said the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Superintendent Steven Racette and Deputy Superintendent Stephen Brown are among the executives on leave, a state official told CNN on Tuesday. The other is First Deputy Superintendent Donald Quinn, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
And the FBI is investigating possible broader corruption at the prison, law enforcement officials briefed on the case said . Agents are looking into whether drug trafficking or other criminal behavior among employees and inmates took place, officials said.
Some employees who have been questioned told investigators that there was heroin use among prisoners and an alleged drug trade involving employees.
West Virginia in the mix
According to Sweat, this is how the plan was supposed to play out, officials said:
Sweat and Matt would come out of a manhole and meet Mitchell, who would whisk them away. The convicted murderers would then kill Mitchell’s husband Lyle before fleeing to Mexico.
Instead, authorities said, Mitchell bailed on the plan, forcing the fugitives to improvise on the run for more than three weeks.
Police caught up with and killed Matt last Friday. Two days later, an officer shot and wounded Sweat less than 2 miles from the Canadian border.
Mitchell’s husband: I still love her
Nevermind that Sweat, Matt and Mitchell had allegedly plotted to have Mitchell’s husband killed before the trio drove off to Mexico. Mitchell’s husband Lyle still loves his wife.
After all, Joyce Mitchell apparently bailed on the plan to serve as the escapees’ getaway driver, Lyle Mitchell’s attorney told CNN.
“In a way, he’s looking at it as Joyce saved his life that night by not picking them up,” attorney Peter Dumas said.
“He’s still in love with her.”