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June 18, 2015

Husband in middle of prison escape drama 'can't stand by' wife

'Blown away' as details of murder plot against are revealed

The husband of a prison worker charged with helping two convicted killers escape from an upstate New York prison "can't stand by her" and was "blown away" when she revealed a plot to murder him, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Lyle Mitchell, who like his wife, Joyce Mitchell, worked at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, did not know about the escape plans until they were discovered missing on June 6, his lawyer, Peter Dumas, told NBC's "Today" television program.

The two convicts broke through steel walls, slipped through a steam pipe and emerged from a manhole outside the 170-year-old maximum-security prison, which is about 20 miles south of the Canadian border.

On the 13th day of the massive manhunt by New York State Police and other law enforcement officers on Thursday, criticism began surfacing over a separate investigation ordered by Governor Andrew Cuomo into prison failings that led to the escape. Authorities have expanded their search beyond the immediate vicinity of the prison, and have even included the U.S. Marshall's Service working along the border with Mexico, where Matt fled in a previous escape.

Mitchell visited his wife on Tuesday in jail, where she is being held on charges she supplied hacksaw blades and other tools to Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, Dumas said.

"He was just blown away by what was coming out," Dumas said. "The fact that she told him that these two inmates had a plot to kill him. She also had told him that she was not in agreement with it, that she was getting threatened by the inmates at that point."

Joyce Mitchell, 51, an industrial training supervisor in the prison tailor shop, has pleaded not guilty to charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. If convicted of the charges, she faces up to eight years in prison.

She was previously investigated after a co-worker complained she had an inappropriate relationship with Sweat. The probe was concluded without disciplinary action, although she and Sweat were ordered separated, authorities said.

When that investigation was underway, Lyle Mitchell said "the inmate came up to him and assured him that there was no inappropriate relationship, his wife assured him there was no inappropriate relationship, that they just worked together," Dumas said.

Mitchell was "in shock" that the woman he thought was his best friend for 21 years may have been part of a plot to kill him, Dumas said on "Today."

"He realizes he can't stand by her, that she's kind of made her own bed in this situation and he's got to distance himself from that," Dumas said.

Cuomo's decision to order a prison probe by his own inspector general, rather than an independent investigator, was criticized in an Albany Times Union editorial on Thursday as an effort to avoid blame for the governor's budget cuts to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

"Such a grave and politically sensitive public safety matter should not be handled by one of Mr. Cuomo's own appointees," the newspaper said. "The escape demands an investigation that leads to answers, not one steered by political agendas."

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.