Inmates Free 7 Hostages to End 2-Day Prison Siege

Times Staff Writer

Rebelling inmates released their last seven hostages Friday and surrendered control of the riot-torn West Virginia Penitentiary, bringing the two-day siege to a peaceful conclusion.

Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. personally escorted the seven weary, shoeless hostages one by one from the sprawling facility at midday.

Then, after the prisoners returned to their cells and uniformed guards re-entered the prison, Moore met in an amicable session for more than an hour with an eight-member inmate committee as part of an agreement reached the day before to end the takeover.

The hostages--six guards and a food service employee--were taken by ambulance to a local hospital for examinations but were reported to be in generally good condition.

Meanwhile, authorities reported that at least three inmates had died during the siege in what they believed were execution-style killings at the hands of fellow prisoners. Two more inmates remained unaccounted for and were feared dead.

Moore told reporters that he believes the dead inmates were victims of a group of prisoners who sat as an unofficial tribunal.

"I believe they sat there and very methodically went through a number of 'charges,' " he said. "Then they made their decision, sitting as judge, jury and executioners." When asked if the inmates were killed because they were informers, Moore replied: "They are all in the same category."

The governor, seeking to clarify his pledge that rebelling inmates would suffer "no retaliation," indicated that any prisoner who participated in murder or any other crime--such as kidnaping--could still be prosecuted.

"We intend to inquire into all of the criminal acts that have occurred," he said. "There has been no agreement on amnesty with regard to any criminal acts."

The pledge of "no retaliation," he said, pertained to physical abuse or other unauthorized punishment by prison authorities.

'High Priority'

The governor made few specific commitments toward improving conditions in the 120-year-old institution. But he did say that the "human treatment" of prisoners would be assigned a "high priority."

Moore expressed dismay that work programs aimed at rehabilitating inmates had been discontinued in recent years. "There is, very frankly, too much idle time on prisoner hands," he said. "And this idle time contributed to the circumstances like we've just experienced."

The release of the seven hostages came in the final phase of a carefully planned agreement between state authorities and the inmates. Six guards had been released Thursday and three other hostages were freed earlier by inmates before the agreement.

Moore, who had refused to meet with inmates until the hostages were released and control of the institution returned, disclosed that he had spoken by telephone three times to unnamed inmates during the negotiations that led to the agreement.

Guard Was Beaten

The hostages were reported to have been blindfolded, handcuffed and moved frequently within the institution. One, Raymond Gaughenbaugh, a 63-year-old prison guard, told reporters that he had been grabbed and beaten by the prisoners during the takeover. "I didn't stand a chance," he said. "They punched on me a few times."

State officials said it could take several hours, or even days, to complete a thorough search of the institution. Meanwhile, inmates were to remain locked in their cells during a "state of emergency."

Moore said the electronic locking system used in the prison suffered substantial damage and had been temporarily replaced. But otherwise, he said, the facility "got by with a minimum of damage."

Gain Access to Records

Rioting inmates had been able to gain access to some prison records kept in a captain's office, Moore said, but the main administrative offices had remained "secure."

A small group of reporters and photographers were allowed to observe part of the governor's face-to-face meeting with inmates. Moore shook hands with the prisoners, asked them to be frank and seemed relaxed and attentive as he listened to a wide-ranging list of grievances.

Afterward, the governor expressed confidence that many of the complaints--such as food service and the way regulations are enforced--could be resolved through regular administrative processes.

He sought to refute the suggestion that negotiating with rioting convicts set an unwise precedent. "I felt compelled to keep my end of the bargain," he said.

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