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A Second Guard Was Arrested for Allegedly Helping the Two Murderers Escape from New York's Scariest Prison

Officer Gene Palmer is accused of helping to smuggle tools to Richard Matt and David Sweat in some ground beef.

by Allie Conti
Jun 25 2015, 7:00pm

David Sweat and Richard Matt are still nowhere to be found. Photo via New York State Police

Escaped New York State prisoner and convicted murderer Richard Matt reportedly had a way with women. But now officials have alleged that Officer Gene Palmer, a 57-year-old prison guard at New York's Clinton Correctional Facility, fell prey to his charms as well. More than a week after local prosecutors charged civilian prison employee Joyce Mitchell with giving Matt and fellow convicted murderer David Sweat power tools for their tabloid-friendly escape, they charged Palmer with playing a part too.

It's the latest chapter in a mystery that's made headlines from the New York Times to El Pais. Ever since they went on the lam June 6, investigators have been scrambling to figure out how Matt and Sweat made it out of what's known colloquially as "Little Siberia," a maximum-security facility in the upstate town of Dannemora that is known among prisoners as the scariest facility in New York.

When police announced Monday that they were closing in on the convicts thanks to some DNA evidence found in a cabin, Mitchell's alleged romantic attachment to the cons was still the best—and only—way to explain their initial escape.

But Palmer was arrested Wednesday, and now NBC News is reporting that it's because he traded a flat-headed screwdriver and needle-nose pliers for Matt's paintings on several occasions. (A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News reported that Matt is an accomplished celebrity portraitist.)

Besides being charged with promoting prison contraband and official misconduct, Palmer's also been slapped with two counts of tampering with evidence because he allegedly burned the paintings after the prison break. According to NBC News, he could be facing up to seven years in jail and has already confessed to the trades—while denying being aware of the escape plot—in a statement to police.

Mitchell, a 51-year-old married woman, reportedly admitted to investigators that she had sex with Matt, and had previously been investigated for being too close to Sweat. She also reportedly hid hacksaw blades and drill bits in a batch of hamburger meat brought into the prison and had Palmer, who's worked at the jail for 27 years, bring the meat to the prisoners's block without running it through a metal detector.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty to promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation on June 13, and Palmer claims he had no idea what was in the ground hamburger he brought to Clinton's honors block. He will reportedly plead not guilty sometime Thursday.

"He understands he made a mistake with the whole meat fiasco," Palmer's attorney told CNN. "The only mistake he made with trusting Joyce Mitchell."

Meanwhile, it seemed like the whole manhunt for Matt and Sweat was about to end on Monday, after police found evidence that they had spent time at a hunting cabin about 20 miles west of the prison, and had been there as recently as Saturday morning. Although one local official told a local paper he expected an arrest soon, the convicts remain unaccounted for.

When a confrontation between the fugitives and police finally happens, it could be explosive. On Wednesday, Major Charles E. Guess announced in a press conference that weapons at the hunting cabin couldn't be accounted for.

"They put an inordinate amount of weapons and ammunition and other tools in these shared seasonal hunting camps and cabins," Guess said. "They can't tell us what is missing and what is not."

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