PLATTSBURGH — Before she was sentenced Monday for her role in helping two killers escape from Clinton Correctional, Joyce Mitchell sobbed through a statement expressing remorse and fear of going to state prison.
"This is by far the worst mistake I have made in my life," the Dickinson Center woman said. "I not only let myself down but my children and my husband.
"I love them more than life itself.
"I realize I need to be responsible for my actions," Mitchell said. "(But) I would wear an ankle bracelet for rest of my life if I could just go home to my family."
'NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT'
Mitchell, 51, who provided hacksaw blades and other implements to inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat, had known they were planning an escape.
"I know I should have told someone, but Mr. Matt had others watching and reporting to him about what my husband and I were doing at all times," she said, tears streaming and her head down as she tried to follow her notes.
"I was fearful of Mr. Matt threatening to kill my husband."
Clinton County Judge Kevin K. Ryan wasn't buying that.
"You said you 'did the wrong thing for the right reasons,'" he told her, referencing a presentencing interview with Mitchell. "I just don't find that explanation credible."
In that same interview, the judge reminded the former prison tailor shop supervisor, she had said she felt the punishment she had agreed to in July was too harsh.
"I can assure you, you have nothing to complain about in the negotiated sentence," he told her.
That sentence, delivered Monday morning by Ryan, gave Mitchell two and a third to seven years of incarceration on her conviction of first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, along with a $5,000 fine.
She will serve a concurrent jail term of a year for fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor, and pay a $1,000 fine.
As the handcuffed Mitchell sobbed, wiping her tears on the shoulder of her black-and-white-striped prison shirt, Ryan commended her for earlier positives in her life — earning her GED after quitting school, holding a full-time job.
"On the other hand, you did terrible things," he said.
The Inspector General's Office, the judge said, estimates the state bears the burden of almost $23 million in costs related to the manhunt.
"There can be no doubt that millions of dollars more have been expended," he added, referring to other costs.
And the price paid by many others, Ryan said, is "incalculable."
"A large part of local population was terrified," he said of the three-plus weeks of the manhunt, before Matt was shot and killed in Malone on June 26 and Sweat was brought down by gunfire then captured in Constable two days later.
"Many residents did not sleep for many nights, afraid these (convicted murderers) could be outside their homes."
He talked about the roadblocks and the law-enforcement officers who came from around the state and country and embarked on a perilous effort to find Matt and Sweat, "never knowing if the next step they took ... might be their last.
And think of their families, he said, so fearful that their loved ones were in such danger.
"At any time, you could have stopped this from happening," Ryan told Mitchell.
'TRYING TO UNDERSTAND'
"If I could take it all back, I would ...," she said in her statement to the court.
"I am still trying to understand why I made the actions I did ..."
She said she was seeking mental-health counseling.
Before the sentence was pronounced, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told the court that the Inspector General's Office asked for restitution to the state from Mitchell totaling $119,762.
That's some of the cost for the manhunt and repair the damage to prison facilities caused by Matt and Sweat in executing their escape, including the cell walls they cut through.
Mitchell's attorney, Steven Johnston, however, objected and requested a hearing on the amount being sought.
Ryan agreed to that, since the restitution figure was not part of the agreed-upon sentence.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 6.
FAMILY PAID FOR COUNSEL
Mitchell's family has already paid close to $3,000 to Clinton County for assigned-counsel defense fees, according to County Administrator Michael Zurlo.
The county provided Mitchell's attorney, prompting a huge outcry over the use of tax dollars for that purpose.
In early August, the Clinton County Legislature discussed the issue at length and agreed to challenge the payment.
‘I LOVE YOU’
In court Monday, Johnston described his client’s cooperation with the escape investigation, saying she was interviewed for 40 hours by State Police and another 10 by the investigator general.
She wasn't truthful with police, at first, but did come clean, he said, wanting to help authorities in their effort.
"She is very remorseful for what she did."
As Mitchell left the courtroom, she mouthed, "I love you," to her husband, Lyle.
At one point earlier during the proceedings, she leaned toward him and mouthed, "I am so sorry."
Mr. Mitchell, dressed in a royal blue short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans, sat with his hands folded in front of him, looking straight ahead with little or no emotion on his face.
Following the sentencing, he would not speak to reporters and met with Johnston privately.
Mrs. Mitchell had accepted the plea agreement offered by Wylie with the understanding that she would not face other possible charges, including conspiracy to murder her husband and sexual assault or rape related to Matt and Sweat.
Other conditions included continued cooperation in the state inspector general's investigation of the breakout and giving up her state teaching assistant certificate, which she did on Monday in court.
- Staff Writer Ashleigh Livingston contributed to this report.