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AUBURN, N.Y. - A convicted murderer says Auburn state prison guards had him repairing locks often without supervision throughout the facility nearly every day for a year.

Gordon "Woody" Mower, who's in prison for murdering his parents in 1996, told Syracuse.com that guards started having him fix locks all over the prison in 2014 after the facility's locksmith retired.

"We're not supposed to have anything to do with locks, " Mower said in an interview at Elmira state prison. "It's supposed to be top secret to inmates how locks work."

Mower cited a deposition from a disciplinary hearing at the prison in 2015 as corroboration of his claims about fixing locks. In the hearing, Mower talked about fixing locks all over the prison.

A civilian employee who was in charge of the metal shop was asked at the hearing whether Mower did lockshop work in the prison.

"Yes, he did quite a lot for the lockshop, " the employee, Edward Anderson, testified at the hearing, according to an audio recording. He said Mower did work around the prison.

Anderson, an industrial training supervisor at Auburn, could not be reached for comment.

Prisoners Legal Services provided Syracuse.com with the recording.

Mower said he fixed seven locks in one day. He would fix locks three or four days in a row, then go another three or fours without doing it, starting in 2014, he said. It ended in April 2015, after he was caught plotting to escape under a load of sawdust.

Mower, 40, formerly of Richfield Springs, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Auburn Correctional Facility in 2003.Michelle Gabel | The Post-Standard

The locks are so old at Auburn that many of their replacement parts are obsolete, Mower said. He had to custom build them in the prison's machine shop, he said.

"We repaired all the broken locks as ordered, " he said.

Another former Auburn inmate, Jacob Russell, told Syracuse.com he saw Mower repeatedly work on locks.

"I seen him do it, " Russell said. "He used to laugh about it all the time. He used to say, 'I'm doing life without parole and they've got me fixing locks. I could make a skeleton key anytime I want.'"

Russell was disciplined in 2014 for possessing three security bits in his cell. Mower made the bits in the prison's metal shop, he said. They were designed to unscrew special security screws in the prison, including plates that covered the locks, Mower said. He said he gave them to Russell for safekeeping, because guards trusted Russell more than most inmates and were less likely to search his cell.

Syracuse.com obtained Russell's disciplinary records confirming he was punished for possessing the bits, which he admits he falsely told guards were parts for a typewriter.

"Woody gave them to me to hold onto, " Russell said in a phone interview with Syracuse.com.

The prison system's Office of Special Investigations interviewed Russell in April at Shawangunk state prison about the items found in his cell, he said.

Russell, 40, who's also serving life without parole for murder, said he used to watch Mower fix locks.

"At the end of every company, there's the gates that lock and they've got the big keys that lock the gates shut, " he said. "I've seen him come and fix those locks."

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision denied Syracuse.com's request under the state's freedom-of-information law for records related to investigations into Mower's claim. The agency said it's still investigating the allegations.

"The department's Office of Special Investigations presently has an open and ongoing investigation" into whether Mower was allowed to repair locks at Auburn, a lawyer for the prison system wrote in June.

An investigator from OSI interviewed Mower for more than three hours about the allegations in April, the day after a Syracuse.com interviewed him at Elmira state prison, Mower said.

While he was fixing locks, Mower made two duplicate keys that would've allowed him to open dropboxes in the prisons, he said. Guards are supposed to put their keys in the dropboxes when there's a riot or some other emergency that would require them put the keys out of reach of inmates, he said.

Mower said he hid one of the duplicate dropbox keys in a vat of oil in the prison machine shop, next to an engine lathe. No one would ever think to reach into the deep vat to look for a key unless he knew it was there, Mower said.

He hid the other key inside a hot plate that prisoners used on Auburn's honor block to heat food, Mower said.

It's likely the duplicate key is still at the bottom of the vat of oil, he said.

"Ten thousand corrections officers could search the prison and not one is going to dig into an oil bath, " Mower said.

If a riot ever broke out at Auburn, Mower planned to grab one of the keys, he said. He would then open one of the dropboxes, grab the guards' keys and use them to escape, he said.

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