JOHN KEKIS, Associated Press
MALONE, N.Y. (AP) — Searchers on the trail of two murderers who escaped from a northern New York prison three weeks ago edged closer to the Canadian border Friday after they found new evidence left behind by the pair.
Hundreds of officers looking for Richard Matt and David Sweat shifted the focus of their search slightly northwest to woods and fields around Malone, about 30 miles west of Clinton Correctional Facility.
State Police Maj. Charles Guess said Friday the shift came after investigators developed evidence left behind by the escapees. Items were found Thursday at a cabin and Friday morning in a field, both in the town of Malone, he said.
While Guess would not elaborate on the evidence, he made it sound like a break in the often-frustrating 21-day, around-the-clock search for the two killers.
"They probably have every reason to keep going," Guess said. "The items that we have found have been significant."
Guess said the searchers' goal was to get ahead of the inmates, who are believed to be moving mostly at night. He said the convicts had taken basic supplies from some of the area's many hunting camps. He said the stretch of the border a few miles north of Malone was being guarded by a "picket line" of officers.
"We have no reason to believe they're in Canada yet," Guess said.
New York State Department of Corrections Officers and a forest ranger, right, patrol an area in Owls Head, N.Y. for convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat, Friday, June 26, 2015. Police shifted a focus of their three week search closer to the Canadian border. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Searchers converged a week ago on the heavy woods to the west of the maximum-security prison in Dannemora after developing DNA evidence in a hunting camp in Bellmont, a town just east of Malone. On Friday, a small contingent of New York state troopers was stationed along power lines in the Malone area, and motorists had to pass through a checkpoint.
"I think these guys are going to find them," said Sonny Morales, as he sat on an easy chair in front of a house near the border in the town of Constable. "I know it's taken a long time, but there's a lot of freaking land to cover. The border's pretty tight."
Sweat and Matt broke out of the prison June 6. Authorities say they cut through the steel wall at the back of their cells, scaled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe and then emerged from a manhole outside the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy. Matt, who turned 49 on Thursday, was doing 25 years to life in the kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Meanwhile, New York state prison officials said Friday that a corrections officer facing charges related to the escape has been suspended without pay.
Gene Palmer's suspension from his $72,644-a-year job comes after he was arrested Wednesday night on charges of promoting prison contraband, tampering with evidence and official misconduct.
Palmer has told investigators he provided paint, tools and prison catwalk access to Matt and Sweat. But the veteran guard says he had no idea they were planning to escape.
He is free on $25,000 bail.
Another prison worker, tailor shop instructor Joyce Mitchell, is charged with helping them escape. Authorities say Mitchell smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by hiding them in frozen meat that Palmer delivered to the inmates.
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New York State Department of Corrections Officers search an area in Owls Head, N.Y. for convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat, Friday, June 26, 2015. Police shifted a focus of their three week search closer to the Canadian border. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)