This is not the Shawshank Redemption

If you’re watching the news this weekend you’ve probably seen the headlines about a “shocking” jailbreak carried out by two murderers in upstate New York. The two killers are still at large at the time of this writing and the public is being cautioned against engaging them if they are spotted.

A manhunt was underway for two convicted murderers who pulled off an elaborate overnight escape from adjoining cells in a New York state maximum security prison near the border with Canada, police said on Saturday.

Prison guards discovered that the men were missing during an early morning bed check in the Clinton Correctional Facility, in Dannemora, about 40 miles (65 km) south of the Canadian province of Quebec. Both inmates are considered a danger to the public, state police said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the escape, the first from the prison’s maximum security facility in its 150 year history, as “sophisticated.”

The two men were in adjoining cells and cut a hole through the back wall, crawling through the opening overnight, a prison official said.

They scaled a catwalk, then used power tools to drill through metal walls and a steam pipe, finally weaving through interior tunnels and coming out through a manhole cover on the street, Cuomo said.

The two men, Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, have nothing to lose and are both considered extremely dangerous. This story hits close to home for me, both literally and figuratively. I don’t know all that much about Richard Matt beyond what I’ve read in the press coverage, but David Sweat is a very well known figure in my home town. It was less than 20 miles from my house where Sweat, along with two scumbag accomplices, murdered Broome County sheriff’s deputy Kevin Tarsia in cold blood on Independence Day in 2002. The entire community was sent into shock and the wounds remain raw to this day.

Every story I’ve seen about this jailbreak has been comparing it to the Shawshank Redemption, but I would like to tell you from a firsthand perspective that it’s nothing of the kind. True, the criminals had to hack their way through walls and pipes, crawl through sewers and emerge from a manhole in the street, so the mechanics were similar to the Stephen King tale. But there the resemblance ends. Andy Dufresne was a sympathetic figure in the movie. He was accused of what was essentially a crime of passion and the viewer is left wondering if he actually even did it. He’s skillful, intelligent and charismatic, resorting to violence only when it is required to save his own skin and his “victims” are always bad guys.

Let me tell you about David Sweat.

Deputy Tarsia was working third shift when he came upon Sweat and his two buddies splitting up the goods from a robbery they committed over the border in Pennsylvania, including a number of guns they had stolen. Our local paper provides a rather sanitized version of the events.

A 13-year veteran, Tarsia was working an overnight shift, and had been driving to his home in Kirkwood on July 4, 2002, when he noticed three men in a park.

Sweat, 22 at the time, and two companions were in the park splitting the proceeds of a burglary they had committed. They killed the deputy when he confronted them, authorities said at the time.

I say “sanitized” because the missing details are horrific. You can read some (though still not all) of them at the Officer Down Memorial Page which honors Tarsia. The Deputy approached them, apparently thinking that it could have been just some holiday revelers up to some mischief after a few too many beers. These three animals shot Tarsia more than a dozen times, and while he returned fire, they had him down before he could even empty his weapon. After he was down, the murderers ran him over with their car.

There were no Andy Dufresnes in that crowd. Sweat should have gotten the death penalty along with his partner Kevin Nabinger, but a plea deal worked out between the prosecutor and a county judge allowed him to get away with life in prison without parole. And now he is out on the loose and he has absolutely no incentive to go back to jail peacefully and quietly. If there has ever been a more compelling case to argue in favor of capital punishment I can’t think of one, particularly if he winds up taking another life while on the run.

Anyway, if you happen to be in this part of the country and you see the monsters in the picture below, (Sweat is on the right) call the cops and stay out of his way. They’re not out on their way to a pleasant lunch with Morgan Freeman.