TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Both Richard Matt and David Sweat had troubled childhoods and later had developed interests in art. They were involved in gruesome crimes and came together to orchestrate their great escape.
When Richard Matt was brought to justice for the kidnapping, torture and murder of his former boss, North Tonawanda food broker William Rickerson, there was a great sense of relief that he was no longer on the streets. He was sentenced to 25 years to life but prosecutors had asked for the death penalty.
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Joe Mordino, former prosecutor said, “I mean to torture someone, to beat them, to drive them around in the trunk of a car in December for 27 hours and then to carelessly just break his neck. That’s absolutely horrible.”
Matt was considered such a risk, even in captivity, that he was held in solitary confinement and forced to wear electrodes that could be activated during his trial if he became unruly.
Former North Tonawanda Police Captain Gabriel DiBernardo led the investigation that put Matt behind bars. During the escape he feared for his life and the life of his loved ones.
“I had a loaded weapon on every floor of my house,” he recalled. “He was the most evil, cunning, sadistic person I ever investigated in 38 years.”
Richard Matt had a history of eluding authorities. He once escaped from the Alden Correctional Facility when he was 19 and was recaptured. Then, after the murder of Rickerson, he fled to Mexico and stabbed an American to death in a bar fight. News 4 obtained a rare jail house interview of Matt in 1998, where he admits killing the bar patron.
When asked how many times Matt stabbed the man he said, “I don’t know, ’till he stopped moving.”
Although later in the same interview in Mexico he denied mutilating and dumping the body of Rickerson. “I didn’t dump no torso,” he said.
As a young inmate inside a prison in Elmira he somehow posed for a picture wearing a correction officer’s shirt, and holding a billy club in his hand. Below it he joked “Who said I can’t escape this place?”
Matt could also could paint and he sent his friend’s father pieces he created from behind bars.
Matt would find his match in another cunning and vicious killer whose cell was next to his at Clinton Correctional Facility, David Sweat. Sweat was serving a life sentence for killing 36 year-old Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia who he shot multiple times and then ran over with his car.
Sweat was 22-years-old and had been caught with two other men stealing from a weapons store in Pennsylvania.
“He’s the one who took my brothers’ life. He was such a kind, generous loving soul,” Cecilia, Tarsia’s sister, told News 4.
Sweat’s escape from Clinton was also emotionally wrenching.
“It was a traumatic event.for not only the members of this agency, but also the community,” said Capt. Fred Aksher of the Broome County Sheriff’s office. “This type of event stirs up some emotions and of course they’re raw”
Sweat, like Matt, had the ability to charm people in prison when it suited his interest.
“I didn’t know he killed a police officer. I would not even think he was in there for murder the way he held himself, the way he conducted himself. Well spoken when he did speak. And he was the head of the tailor shop,” explained Erik Jensen, a former Clinton Correctional inmate.
Jenson bonded with Sweat over their shared passion for art.
“He wasn’t loud. He was quiet, reserved. He was an artist just like me. We compared our artwork,” Jensen said.
At age 17, Sweat spent 19 months in prison for an attempted burglary conviction.
“I always had trouble with David when he was growing up,” Pamela Sweat, David’s mother, told News 4 last month. “I’ve always told my kids you do the crime you do the time.”
While both men had checkered pasts and possessed the ability to charm, they still needed somebody to help them with their escape plan.
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