Manhunt for Escaped Killers Shifts After Possible Sightings - NBC Bay Area
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Manhunt for Escaped Killers Shifts After Possible Sightings

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    Fifteen days have passed since two convicted murderers popped open a manhole cover outside the Clinton Correctional Facility and fled, and on Sunday investigators said the "primary focus" of their search continues to be in the vicinity of the northern New York prison.

    Investigators scoured a rural area Sunday near the Pennsylvania border after possible sightings shifted the search across the state.

    Officers continued searching an area in Allegany County, in New York's southern tier, a day after someone reported spotting two men near a railroad line that runs along Route 20 in the town of Friendship.

    Police concentrated the search in the area along the route and Interstate 86, some 350 miles from the prison that David Sweat and Richard Matt fled near the Canadian border.

    The pair broke out of the maximum-security prison in Dannemora on June 6 using power tools and leaving behind dummies under bedcovers in their adjoining cells.

    Until Saturday, the search was concentrated in a several-mile radius around the prison in the Adirondacks. Up to 800 law enforcement officers combed woods, went door-to-door and set up roadblocks.

    State Police Major Michael Cerretto said during a news conference Sunday afternoon that more than 300 federal and state lawmen were brought into Allegany Count as a result of the possible sighting.

    "We will continue to search this area until all leads are exhausted," he said. "We will search under every rock, behind every tree and structure until we are confident the area is secure."

    Later in the day, the state police indicated that little progress has been made in efforts to capture the two fugitives.

    "Tips and leads continue to come in across the state along with unconfirmed sightings, but a primary focus of the search continues to be in the Dannemora area," it said.

    The two men are "very dangerous" and should not be approached, state police said. 

    Authorities said Friday that two men fitting the descriptions of Sweat and Matt had been seen a week ago in Steuben County, east of Allegany County. Two men were seen walking near a rail yard in Erwin on June 13, and then seen the next day in Lindley, heading toward the Pennsylvania border.

    Investigators conducted interviews in both communities and sent surveillance video to Albany for further analysis.

    Railroads in Steuben and Allegany Counties referred inquiries Sunday to the state police.

    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 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.

    Prison worker Joyce Mitchell remained in custody Saturday on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.

    Officials said a Clinton County corrections officer also has been placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men's escape. The officer, Gene Palmer, is being investigated for what role, if any, he played in the escape, a senior official told NBC News. Palmer hasn't been charged with any crime.

    Andrew Brockway, an attorney representing Palmer, said his client had extensive contact with the escapees inside the prison, but had no knowledge of their escape plot.