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Manhunt shifts to lone cabin in upstate New York: Prisoner hideout?

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Aaron Harris/Reuters

(Read caption) New York State Police engage in a manhunt for two prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat in Friendship, New York on Sunday. Heavily-armed police converged on towns in western New York state on Saturday to investigate possible sightings of the two convicted murderers who escaped a maximum-security prison two weeks ago, police said.

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The latest sighting of two convicts who escaped from a New York prison now places them close to the Canadian border — more than 350 miles from where state police conducted their search less than a day before.

Investigators and military trucks arrived at Mountain View and Owls Head in Franklin County, N.Y., late Sunday in response to reports that a person had been seen fleeing from a hunting camp in the area after breaking into a cabin, Glenn MacNeill, acting Franklin County district attorney, told local NBC affiliate WPTZ.

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The Associated Press reported Monday afternoon that State Police Maj. Charles Guess said at a news conference that authorities had "specific items" from the Adirondack cabin some 20 miles west of the prison and sent them to labs for DNA and other testing. He would not elaborate on the items but characterized the latest search effort — one of many over the past 17 days — as a confirmed lead.

"There are a number of factors that make this a complex search: the weather, the terrain, the environment and frankly the vast scope of the north country of the Adirondacks," Major Guess said.

Police said the cabin sighting was unconfirmed, but authorities nonetheless shifted the hunt for Clinton Correctional Facility inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt from a rural mountainous area near the Pennsylvania border to upstate New York.

Witnesses told WPTZ that helicopters are in the air and checkpoints are in place on roads in the area, which is 25 miles west of the prison where the two inmates used power tools to cut holes through their cell walls to escape on June 6.

Still, state police said in a news release late Sunday that though they will continue to respond to reports of sightings, a “primary focus of the search continues to be in the Dannemora area,” close to Clinton Correctional. The statement urged Dannemora residents to stay alert, adding:

If these men are spotted, please call 911 immediately. Do not approach, as both are considered to be very dangerous....

New York State is offering a reward of $50,000 for information that leads to the capture of either suspect ($100,000 for both). The U.S. Marshals Service has placed Sweat and Matt on their 15 Most Wanted Fugitives List, and is also offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to the capture of either suspect.

“We will search under every rock, behind every tree and structure until we are confident that that area is secure,” State Police Maj. Michael J. Cerretto said at a news conference.

Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy, while Mr. Matt was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture, and murder of his former boss.

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The Christian Science Monitor reported that prison worker Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges that she provided the two men hacksaw blades, chisels, and other tools to aid in their escape. She has pleaded not guilty.

Officials said a corrections officer also has been placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men's escape.

State police will hold a media briefing with Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wiley and County Sheriff Dave Favro on Monday at noon to provide updates on the search.