MALONE, N.Y. — With his escape partner killed, the surviving convicted murderer who pulled off an elaborate breakout from a maximum-security prison three weeks ago could have a tougher time eluding the army of searchers scouring miles of thick woods in far northern New York, police said Saturday.
Richard Matt — who once vowed never to be taken alive — was fatally shot during an encounter with border patrol agents Friday about 30 miles west of the prison he escaped from with David Sweat on June 6. Sweat remained on the lam Saturday and about 1,200 searchers focused intensely on 22 square miles encompassing thick forests and heavy brush around where Matt was killed.
Police hoped the solo escapee would finally succumb to the stress of little sleep, scant food and biting bugs.
"Anyone in the woods and on the run from the law so to speak is not getting a full eight hours sleep, they're not eating well and they have to keep moving," Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill said.
Sweat also could have an even tougher time now without someone to take turns resting with and watch his back, said Clinton County Sheriff David Favro.
"Now it's a one-man show and it makes it more difficult for him," Favro said. "And I'm sure fatigue is setting in for him as well, knowing the guy he was with has already been shot."
The frustrating manhunt suddenly broke open Friday afternoon when a person towing a camper heard a loud noise and thought a tire had blown. Finding there was no flat, the driver drove eight miles before looking against and finding a bullet hole in the trailer. A tactical team responding to the scene of the shot smelled gunpowder inside a cabin and saw evidence that someone had fled out the back door.
A noise — perhaps a cough — ultimately did Matt in. A border patrol team discovered Matt, who was shot after failing to heed a command to raise his hands.
Matt had a 20-gauge shotgun that was believed to have been taken from another cabin. The pair had apparently been relying on the remote region's many hunting camps and seasonal dwellings for supplies.
Matt — who turned 49 the day before he died — was serving 25 years to life at Clinton Correctional Facility for the killing and dismemberment of his former boss. Local residents were relieved that that the killer was no longer roaming the woods, but the constant commotion of speeding police cruisers and helicopters pointed to the continued danger.
"Half the threat is taken care of, but obviously David Sweat is on the loose," said Matt Maguire, who was waiting for a police escort to pick up some clothes from his house inside the search area. Maguire and his fiancee decided a week ago to stay with nearby relatives, where it was safer.
Across the state In Buffalo, the man who prosecuted Matt's murder case seven years ago also was relieved — but not surprised — by Matt's violent end. Louis Haremski, the special prosecutor for Matt's 2008 murder conviction, said snitches had told deputies back then that Matt had a plan to break out of the jail he was in at that time. Matt had sworn then that if he escaped, he wouldn't be captured alive.
"I guess maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy," Haremski said. "I wasn't looking for him to be killed, but it was not an unpredictable event."
Matt's body was taken to Albany Medical Center for an autopsy.
Sweat, 35, was serving a sentence of life without parole in the killing of a sheriff's deputy in Broome County in 2002. Mulverhill said investigators believe he may be armed.
State troopers continued stopping every car approaching the closed perimeter in the neighboring towns of Malone and Duane while teams within the perimeter performed grid searches. While there have been no confirmed sightings of Sweat, police said investigators saw a second set of tracks near where Matt was shot. Searchers hoped for one last break before heavy rains forecast for Sunday come in.
"He's fatigued, tired, and he's going to make a mistake," Mulverhill said.
Associated Press writer Jim Fitzgerald contributed from New York City and Michael Hill contributed from Albany, New York.