Convicted murderer Richard Matt who escaped a New York prison with another inmate, sparking a nationwide manhunt before he was shot dead in 2015, may have killed a young mother more than two decades earlier, new court papers allege.
David Sweat, who broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility with Matt seven years ago, wrote in an affidavit that his friend told him he was behind the brutal strangulation and stabbing death of Buffalo housewife Deborah Meindl in 1993.
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The onetime cellmates, both convicted murderers, famously used tools smuggled in by their married lover, then-prison worker Joyce Mitchell, to carve through a wall to freedom, setting off a 23-day manhunt.
The daring jailbreak that ended with a federal agent fatally shooting Matt and Sweat’s recapture near the Canadian border captivated the nation and inspired the TV series “Escape at Dannemora” starring Benicio del Toro and Patricia Arquette.
Sweat’s new claim of Matt’s role in the Meindl murder was made during an Oct. 18 interview with attorneys for two Buffalo men – James Pugh and Brian Lorenzo — who say they were framed for the woman’s slaying and are trying to get their trial convictions thrown out.
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“Matt used a tie to strangle the victim,” Sweat wrote in the affidavit, more than half of which was redacted. “While Matt strangled the victim with the tie, Matt interrogated her about whether she had told anyone else what she knew about the officer.”
He said his slain pal told him he had killed 33-year-old Meindl, a nursing student, at the behest of a corrupt cop.
Attorneys Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, who represents Pugh, and Ilann Maazel, who represents Lorenzo, say the hit may have been ordered by retired Tonawanda Police Department Det. David Bentley, who feared Meindl, his alleged mistress, was about to turn him in for unspecified crimes, court papers allege.
Two Erie County prosecutors who were assigned earlier this year to re-investigate the case against Pugh and Lorenzo allegedly came to believe that Matt and Bentley were the true killers, court papers allege. The DA’s office subsequently turned over critical information supporting this claim to the defense to comply with laws that require disclosure of exculpatory information, according to the filings.
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Erie County District Attorney John Flynn disagreed with the prosecutors’ findings and took them off the case because they “did not accept my decision with the professionalism expected of career prosecutors,” he said in a statement to Fox News.
Sweat said that Matt and Bentley went back years and allegedly worked together to rob drug dealers, according to the affidavit.
The attorneys for Pugh and Lorenzo point to what they call another piece of key evidence that casts doubt on their clients’ guilt. The murder weapons were recently tested for DNA, and Pugh and Lorenzo were not a match. But neither was Matt, according to the papers.
During the 1994 trial, prosecutors argued that Pugh and Lorenzo were smalltime burglars who killed Meidl during a botched home invasion. Pugh was recently paroled and Lorenzo is still behind bars.
Meidl was found by her 9-year-old daughter on her return home from school Feb. 17, 1993. She’d been stabbed numerous times, the tie used to strangle her still wrapped around her neck and her wrists were handcuffed behind her back. Bentley was the lead detective on Meindl’s case.
Flynn said there is no credible evidence to link Richard Matt to the murder of Meindl or that Meindl was having an affair with Bentley. “Without any new, credible evidence, I will continue to oppose this motion,” the DA told Fox News in a statement.
Justice Christopher Burns said Wednesday in Erie County Supreme Court that he wanted to review the papers from both parties and would either vacate the convictions or hold a hearing on the matter Dec. 13.
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Sweat is locked up at Shawangunk Correctional Facility serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and escape. Matt had been serving 25 to life for beating a man to death when they made their prison break.
“This case has taken many twist and turns but one thing has remained clear, which is that there was never enough evidence to convict James Pugh of this murder,” said Margulis-Ohnuma. Maazel didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Bentley, who has denied the allegations, did not respond to a request seeking comment.