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Joyce Mitchell enters plea deal in prisoner escape: What's in her bargain?

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Rob Fountain/Reuters

(Read caption) Joyce Mitchell appears in court with her lawyer Stephen Johnston to plead guilty at Clinton County court in Plattsburgh, NY on Tuesday. Ms. Mitchell was charged with promoting prison contraband, a felony, and criminal facilitation for assisting convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York on June 6.

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Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges filed against her for helping David Sweat and Richard Matt break out of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., last month.

Ms. Mitchell, who worked as a seamstress at the maximum security prison, said she provided hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch tool, and a screwdriver to Mr. Matt, which allowed him and Mr. Sweat to escape on June 6 by cutting through the prison wall and pipes. She took a plea deal that limited the charges against her in exchange for her cooperation and acceptance of the sentence handed to her.

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The plot also allegedly involved Mitchell picking Matt and Sweat up in her car after their escape, killing her husband Lyle, and driving away with them, but Mitchell backed out, forcing Matt and Sweat to travel on foot, according to prosecutors.

She faces between 2 1/3 and 7 years in prison for first-degree promoting prison contraband and fourth-degree criminal facilitation.

The plea deal means Mitchell will avoid more serious potential charges of murder conspiracy for the plan to kill her husband, and rape, for any sexual relationship she may have had with Matt and Sweat. In exchange, she will waive her right to appeal and will cooperate with the continued investigation into the prison break.

"Because the evidence was so overwhelming ... she wanted to expedite her case proceedings and move on with the matter," Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told reporters outside the court.

Investigators said they do not believe the plot that resulted in a nearly three-week-long manhunt had involved anyone other than Mitchell, Sweat, and Matt. Corrections officer Gene Palmer brought Matt and Sweat the hacksaw blades hidden in hamburger meat, but according to authorities he did not know he was carrying contraband.

Matt was found, shot, and killed by authorities late last month, and Sweat was captured days later. Although Sweat is already serving a life sentence for murder – now at Five Points Correctional Facility – Mr. Wylie told reporters he would still be pursuing extra charges against him for crimes related to the breakout.

"I cannot hit him any harder than he has been hit," Wylie said.

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This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.