64 tied bed sheets: NY jail uncovers daring escape plot

Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York (Reuters / Chris Wattie)
A New York prison has prevented an escape involving 64 bed sheets in the course of conducting a lengthy investigation into contraband smuggling. Police also uncovered a corrupt “shopping network” deeply embedded in the facility.

The convict suspected of planning the escape, Ernest Murphy, fell victim to a cell inspection that took place after prison authorities dismantled a drug ring being run inside. He was awaiting trial at the Clinton maximum-security prison in Dannemora on a charge of attempted murder, but it looks like the wait was too long for him – enough to want to climb down 11 stories to make it to freedom, according to the AP.

Prison inmates Richard Matt, 48, (L) and David Sweat, 35 (Reuters / New York State Police / Handout)

As of May 11, Murphy is also facing new charges of smuggling contraband. He was already in prison on charges of taking part in a prison assault which resulted in another inmate being slashed and shot.

Murphy did not confess to having escape plans, but the prison isn’t buying it. The bed sheets were found stashed underneath the sink in his cell, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, Mark Peters, reported. The added length of the resulting sheets would have been the length of four gymnasiums.

“Thankfully, it was discovered before he had an opportunity to test his skills at making a getaway,” Peters said in a statement. “And so the city was spared the potential spectacle of joining the state for the past two weeks in a manhunt for escaped inmates,” he added in reference to two more successfully escaped convicts at Clinton, who had used power tools smuggled into the prison to make a break for freedom.

READ MORE: NY state police struggle to find escaped murderers despite ‘credible tip’

"We have all witnessed in recent weeks the serious consequences that can result when contraband is smuggled inside prison walls," said Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney for Manhattan and Peters.

Murphy was arrested in an investigation lasting months to uncover the smuggling network, which, it turned out, had long roots at the facility. It turns out Murphy and potentially hundreds more inmates at Clinton were working with correction officer Patricia Howard, 44, who had served on the job for nearly 20 years.

Following a police operation involving wiretaps and undercover officers, Howard was caught red-handed with a bag including drugs, lighters, flashlights and $800, which was her cut of the deal, according to officials.

It turns out Howard had been involved in more than 2,400 cases of smuggling contraband. One inmate even wrote her a thank-you note for her work in helping to keep the “jail shopping network” running.

Howard would collect all the orders relayed by inmates to friends or relatives, before passing the goods onto inmate Tommy Davis, who would then distribute them to others.

Marijuana, a pen with a sharpened tip, a blade and scales for weighing drugs were all uncovered in the course of the investigation, which is ongoing.