David Sweat, Escaped New York Convict, Is Shot and Captured as Hunt Ends

June 29th, 2015 by Staff

(www.nytimes.com)

CONSTABLE, N.Y. — David Sweat, the remaining prison escapee on the run in northern New York, was shot by a state trooper and taken into custody on Sunday after a 23-day manhunt that began with an improbable escape from two maximum-security cells and ended in the rain-drenched woods just south of the Canadian border.

Mr. Sweat, 35, a murderer who had been serving a sentence of life without parole, was in critical condition at Albany Medical Center late Sunday night, according to Dennis P. McKenna, the hospital’s medical director.

The shooting occurred here around 3:20 p.m. after a State Police sergeant spotted a man jogging down a road, stopped to question him and recognized him as Mr. Sweat, said Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico of the New York State Police. The sergeant, Jay Cook, told Mr. Sweat to come over to him, but instead Mr. Sweat turned and fled across a field toward the tree line, Mr. D’Amico said. Sergeant Cook, a firearms instructor who was patrolling by himself, gave chase and finally opened fire, striking Mr. Sweat twice in the torso, because he realized the fugitive was going to make it to the woods and possibly disappear, Mr. D’Amico said.

More than 1,300 officers in rain-slicked gear had helped to tighten a cordon around Mr. Sweat on Sunday as the search, which had at times appeared to lurch between small New York towns as officials chased shreds of reported sightings, focused in on 22 square miles of rugged terrain. The confrontation with Mr. Sweat took place two days after his partner in flight from the authorities, Richard W. Matt, was shot and killed by a federal agent in the woods of Malone, N.Y.

“The nightmare is finally over,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, speaking with Mr. D’Amico on Sunday evening surrounded by law enforcement officers at a news conference in Malone, marked by cheers and applause. “These were really dangerous, dangerous men.”

Mr. Sweat, who was spotted and captured within a few miles of the Canadian border, was unarmed and wearing camouflage clothes. He was taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center, and then moved to Albany Medical Center for further treatment, Mr. D’Amico said.

Mr. McKenna, the medical director at Albany Medical Center, said it was “premature” to say whether Mr. Sweat would undergo surgery. He said Mr. Sweat would need to remain at the hospital “for at least a series of days.”

Word of the manhunt’s end brought relief across the state’s bucolic north, which had been in a near-constant state of alert as residents locked doors once left unsecured and cast a wary eye on every pair of men.

Denise Yando, who lives on a 30-acre property on Coveytown Road in Constable, said state troopers came to her home to say that Mr. Sweat had been shot in a nearby field. “I suspected they would come toward Canada,” Ms. Yando said. “Every time I walk the dog, I’m always looking down the tracks. But I didn’t think it would happen in the field.”

The final days of the search hewed closely to what had been, from the start, a Hollywood-style drama of ingenuity, flight and violence. The escape by Mr. Matt and Mr. Sweat from the Clinton Correctional Facility, discovered on June 6, involved long-term planning, subterfuge and trickery as the men cajoled favors and privileges from prison employees using flattery and, in Mr. Matt’s case, a talent for painting. Their flight lasted longer than some law enforcement observers had expected, but the two fugitives appeared to have never made it more than a few dozen miles from their starting point: a manhole on a street in Dannemora, N.Y., mere steps from the high prison walls meant to contain them.

After a civilian prison employee, Joyce E. Mitchell, failed to meet them in her car, the two men, who displayed cunning inside the prison walls, were forced to run on foot over tough terrain. They found shelter in empty hunting cabins, but left telltale clues of their presence that helped a vast array of agencies — from the State Police to the United States Marshals to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to state Forest Rangers — home in on them over the last week.

It was not clear whether the men remained together the whole time, but they appeared to have been together recently enough that a discarded pepper shaker bearing Mr. Sweat’s DNA was found by investigators over the weekend near the spot where Mr. Matt was killed on Friday.

Mr. D’Amico, of the State Police, said the men possibly used the pepper to throw off the scent of the search dogs, a ruse employed in the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke.”

“We did have difficulty tracking, so it was fairly effective in that respect,” he said.

“If you were writing a movie plot, they would say that this was overdone,” Mr. Cuomo said, speaking at a ski resort in Malone that has doubled as a command center.

Earlier Sunday, the State Police said the search had been continuing “around the clock” and despite a pelting rain that prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood watch for the area. The swell of law enforcement officers in the region, bolstered by the additional 100 officers announced on Sunday, allowed the authorities to have a regular rotation, swapping out fatigued searchers. That continued pressure may have helped wear down the two men. An autopsy of Mr. Matt showed blisters on his feet, according to a statement from the State Police, as well as “minor abrasions consistent with living in the woods for three weeks.”

With dense vegetation and rolling terrain, the woods here had been made even more difficult to navigate, as searchers had to make their way through fog, heavy downpours of rains and the boot-soaking slush left behind.

The two men were both convicted murderers, with Mr. Matt serving a sentence of 25 years to life after being convicted in 2008 of murdering and dismembering a former boss. (Before his trial, he served nine years in a Mexican prison for fatally stabbing an American engineer in a bar bathroom in Matamoros in 1998.)


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