BELLMONT, N.Y. — DNA found just miles from a maximum-security prison is linked to the convicted murderers who escaped more than two weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, as searchers using dogs and helicopters on Tuesday continued to focus intensely on a heavily wooded area in far northern New York.
Cuomo told reporters Monday night that the current lead has "good evidence, DNA data" regarding inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt. It wasn't immediately clear if the DNA belonged to one or both of the inmates.
"I believe we will get these guys," Cuomo said. He also cautioned that they've had a number of leads and have to follow each as if it's the one that's going to bring authorities to the escapees.
State Police Maj. Charles Guess said Monday that authorities had recovered "specific items" from a cabin in the Adirondacks that were sent to labs for DNA and other testing. The cabin is some 20 miles west of the prison. Guess did not elaborate on what the items were.
Terry Bellinger, owner of nearby Belly's Mountain View Inn, said a hunter told him he saw a man run into the woods as he approached the cabin Saturday on an ATV. When the hunter went inside, he noticed two things out of place: a jug of water and an open jar of peanut butter on a table. Bellinger said the hunter went to his restaurant, where he talked to police for several hours.
"He was visibly shaken. He wanted a glass of water," Bellinger said.
Guess urged residents and seasonal camp owners to call police if they notice anything out of place or capture footage on trail cameras of any suspicious activity.
Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill said the search area remains around the remote hamlets of Owls Head and Mountain View, not far from the Canadian border.
Sweat and Matt escaped from the prison in Dannemora on June 6. Authorities say they cut through the steel wall at the back of their cell, crawled down a catwalk, broke through a brick wall, cut their way into and out of a steam pipe, and then sliced through the chain and lock on a manhole cover outside the prison.
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff's deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Meanwhile, the husband of the woman accused of helping the inmates escape said in an interview aired Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show that he's "absolutely 100 percent" certain the pair would have killed him and his wife if his wife had been their getaway driver, as initially planned.
Lyle Mitchell said his wife, Joyce Mitchell, told him convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt offered to give her pills to knock him out so she could pick them up after they escaped, but she refused because she said she still loved her husband.
"Do I still love her? Yes. Am I mad? Yes," Lyle Mitchell said in the interview aired Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show.
Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.
Tuesday's search area was about 20 miles east of the Mitchells' home in Dickinson Center.
Associated Press writer Chris Carola in Albany contributed to this report.