Eric Jensen, 34, served time with Richard Matt and David Sweat before the pair broke free from New York prison

By Jeff Truesdell
Updated June 28, 2015 06:20 PM
Advertisement
New York State Police

A former jailmate of two convicted killers who spent nearly three weeks on the run says he’s relieved Richard Matt is dead and David Sweat is in custody, ending the intense manhunt that followed the pair’s June 6 escape from an upstate New York prison.

“He got what was coming to him,” ex-inmate Eric Jensen told PEOPLE moments after learning that Sweat had been shot and captured Sunday afternoon, two days after Matt was shot and killed by police.

“He has to pay for what he did. I paid for my crime, and he has to pay for his,” says Jensen, 34, of Poughkeepsie, New York, a married father of two. “I don’t want a crazed killer running around. I have a family.”

Jensen – convicted and sentenced for felony possession of stolen property from tractor-trailer robberies – served time in 2011 and 2012 at Clinton Correctional Facility alongside Sweat and Matt. All three worked in a prison tailor shop, where civilian staffer Joyce Mitchell is accused of engaging in a relationship with Sweat that led to her allegedly providing tools and assistance for the men to break free. Another prison officer, Gene Palmer, also has been charged.

Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to her charges while Palmer awaits arraignment.

Jensen says he watched that relationship play out, in particular how Sweat preyed on what he says were Mitchell’s insecurities to win special treatment from her, which “jailhouse talk” assumed included sexual favors in a back room of the tailor shop.

“They were flirtatious,” he says. “She brought him food, she brought him art supplies, she brought him tattoo supplies You know when they’re getting it on, by the way they act, the body language, the way they look at each other, they way they laugh with each other. We all did. It was like a running joke in that, ‘You’re going in the back with your boo.'”

“He would laugh, but he would never confirm or deny,” Jensen says of Sweat. “Dave never spoke out loud. He wouldn’t divulge information, where he was getting his stuff. He never said, ‘Joyce is bringing this to me.’ But you do the math.”

He described the pair’s interactions, and Mitchell’s embrace of the attention, as “like the famous football star that asked the ugly fat girl to the prom.”

“She reminds me of a grandma,” Jensen says. “There’s a lot of women that work in correctional facilities that are older, overweight. They have all these men around there giving them attention, and they crave it. It’s almost like when they come to work, it’s where they want to be because all eyes are on them.

“Outside of the prison they have no authority. Inside the prison, they can tell men what to do. But they also get attention, nice comments. They get these drawings from artists in there. They get sweet talk. They get things from inmates that are more valuable than money and that you can’t buy. Attention. Affection. Gestures. Maybe sex. And this isn’t just in Clinton, either. I’ve been in a few facilities; it’s all the same in every one.”

“I believe she fell prey to this,” he says, “because she wasn’t getting what she wanted, or what she had at first, with her husband. Maybe she was overweight or she was insecure, and what Dave and Rich gave her was a boost of self esteem, and gave her maybe confidence, made her feel young again.”

“I don’t think he had feelings for her,” Jensen says of Sweat, “but he had feelings for trying to get out of there.”

And once Mitchell began to respond and provide Sweat with items such as art supplies and homemade foods that he wasn’t suppose to have, “after you do that one time, guess what? Now you’ve got them under your thumb, because you can get them in trouble.”

Indeed, reports say Sweat was removed from the tailor shop in 2013 amid an inconclusive investigation about an improper relationship with Mitchell, the shop’s supervisor, who allegedly helped pave the way for Sweat and Matt to share side-by-side cells.

Says Jensen: “Once Dave Sweat got kicked out of that tailor shop, guess whose turn it was to manipulate her?”

Sweat, serving time for the 2002 murder of a sheriff’s deputy, “was like a quiet guy, and those are the worst ones,” says Jensen. “The quiet ones are the ones you gotta watch out for, because you never know when they’ll sneak up behind you.”

But the two got along. Sweat even taught Jensen his responsibilities in the tailor shop that made inmate garments. “Dave was the one I really know. Dave was the head of the tailor shop. He was an artist, I was an artist; he did tattoos, I did tattoos. So we bonded over that. We played chess together, we worked out together, things of that nature.”

“Dave was smart. He spoke like an educated person. He didn’t speak like someone that was ignorant or stupid. He was really good at chess. I never beat him.”

Matt, convicted for a murder in which he dismembered his victim, “was one of this guys you don’t get too close to. People were scared of this guy. Really scared.”

In inmate culture, he says, those serving time for murder are either respected or feared. “Matt was feared, because of the brutality, the psychotic behavior, that went along with his crime. You would never turn your back on Matt.”

“I was a short timer; I didn’t want to tell anybody,” says Jensen. “I was afraid somebody was going to set me up, stab me, or do something to make sure I didn t go home. Some people don’t want to see you go home. Because they’re that evil.”

Matt, he says, was perceived as one of those people.

Jensen says he never heard either inmate discuss escape, and when he first learned they had done so, “My hair stood up on end. I had goosebumps,” he says. “When they popped their head through that manhole and they didn’t see Joyce there, what was going through their head must have been like, what are we going to do now?”

“I’m surprised that there wouldn’t just be a carjacking right there in the town, or a burglary, or taking somebody’s keys, kill somebody right there.”

Knowing now that both are finally off the street, “I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a bigger crime spree,” he says. “I’m surprised more violent felonies haven’t been committed because of them trying to get away.”

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.