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Search for elusive NY inmates goes back to woods

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Law enforcement officers walk along a road while searching for two prison escapees from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Owls Head, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll) Law enforcement officers walk along a road while searching for two prison escapees from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Owls Head, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

BELLMONT, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of searchers checked ATV trails and logging roads and went door-to-door in far northern New York trying to close in on two murderers who escaped from a maximum-security prison more than two weeks ago.

Spurred on by fresh evidence, law enforcement officers continued to methodically comb through heavy woods on Wednesday looking for inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt.

Authorities began committing heavy resources to the remote woods this week after leads from a hunting camp that was apparently broken into led to "good evidence, DNA data" regarding the inmates, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Roadblocks were in place Tuesday around the remote hamlets of Owls Head and Mountain View in an area of rugged terrain about 20 miles west of Clinton County Correctional Facility.

Investigators conducted grid searches in the thick, mosquito-infested forests and also checked railroad beds, said Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill. He said people were going to seasonal properties looking for signs of intruders.

"If they're here, we're going to find them," Mulverhill said. "I really believe it's going to come down to old-fashioned police work and the public."

About 140 New York state corrections officers were bused approximately 8 miles north of the hamlets to the village of Malone on Wednesday morning. They went door-to-door checking residences in what state police said was part of the expanding search operations.

Cuomo said, "I believe we will get these guys." But the governor also cautioned that they've had a number of leads and the more than 1,000 officers involved in the search have to follow each as though it's the one that's going to bring authorities to the escapees.

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 Sweat and 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.

Sweat and Matt escaped from the prison in Dannemora on June 6. Authorities say the pair 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.

Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie told reporters that Joyce Mitchell told investigators she smuggled hacksaw blades, a screwdriver and other tools into the prison by placing them in frozen hamburger meat. He said she then placed it in a refrigerator in the tailor shop where she worked, and a corrections officer brought the meat to Sweat and Matt, who were housed in a section of the maximum-security prison where inmates are allowed to cook their own meals.

The DA said the guard didn't know the tools were inside the meat. The guard has been placed on paid leave.

Wylie told ABC News several corrections officers from different prisons in the area own the hunting cabin where the evidence was found. Investigators are looking into whether the escapees overheard guards talking about the cabin or whether they found it by chance.

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