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Prisoners Agree to Free Hostages : W. Virginia Inmates Win Right to Meet Governor, Go on TV

January 03, 1986|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. — The rioting inmates who seized control of the West Virginia Penitentiary released six hostages Thursday under an agreement that allowed them to air their grievances on television and called for a face-to-face meeting today with the governor.

The pact, reached the day after knife-wielding prisoners took over the 120-year-old maximum-security facility, calls for the remaining seven hostages--six guards and a food service worker--to be freed shortly before the meeting with Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. Before the agreement, three other guards taken captive were released.

The newly freed hostages were taken by ambulance to local hospitals for examinations, but a state official said that all appeared to be in generally good condition. Two inmates were reported to have died sometime after the uprising began but the circumstances of their deaths were unclear.

Wide-Ranging Grievances

The agreement was announced at a midafternoon meeting inside the stone-walled, castle-like facility between state officials and representatives of the rebelling inmates. Under its terms, the prisoners will meet with Moore to discuss their wide-ranging grievances after control of the institution is returned to the state.

A. V. Dodrill, West Virginia corrections director, pledged that "each and every item" on the prisoners' agenda would be discussed. John Price, the governor's press secretary, gave similar assurances, saying that the meeting would be a "serious discussion" of prisoner concerns.

"It's close to being over," Price told reporters Thursday. "We think that by tomorrow we will have a peaceful, successful end to this situation."

The pact also states that there will be "no retaliation" against inmates as a result of the takeover. Price said the provision to bar prosecution of prisoners for taking over the facility would not prevent charges from being filed in the death of the inmate, identified as Kent Sly.

The inmate representatives assured authorities that the remaining hostages would be protected, fed regularly and otherwise given proper care.

'We Tried to Avoid It'

After the agreement was announced, two prisoners, Danny Lehman and Alvin Gregory, both serving life terms for murder, described inmate grievances to a small group of reporters and cameramen whose presence had been requested by the inmates. The proceedings were broadcast live locally and the pact was signed before the cameras by Dodrill and Price.

"Nobody wanted this thing," Lehman said. "We tried to avoid it for a long time."

The complaints centered on prison food, lack of adequate heat in the winter and ventilation in the summer and restrictive clothing and hair regulations. The two inmates insisted that the rebellion was spontaneous and enjoyed the support of the vast bulk of the penitentiary's 700 inmates. An estimated 200 took part in Wednesday night's riot, prison authorities said.

The release of the hostages brought some, but not total, relief to the friends and relatives who maintained quiet, occasionally tearful vigils in small groups outside the prison.

A major riot had occurred at the prison in 1973, and in 1979, 15 inmates fled in a breakout in which one state police officer and one inmate were killed.

'Families Stand and Wait'

"This is kind of like being in a coal mine disaster," said J. Donald Krupica, a Marshall County commissioner in this mining and chemical community south of Wheeling, W.Va. "The families have to just stand here and wait, not knowing the fate of their loved ones."

Scores of armed, riot-equipped state police and prison guards had quickly surrounded the aging institution Wednesday evening after the prisoners, using knives and other homemade weapons, captured 16 hostages and gained control of a large part of the institution.

Throughout the day Thursday, rifle-wielding officers continued to encircle the facility as state officials and inmates carried on the discussions that led to the agreement.

Officials reported that at midmorning, the wife of William Henderson, a 30-year-old food service worker being held hostage, received a telephone message from her husband telling her that the hostages were being held separately at different locations in the prison and that, "if they storm the place, someone will die."

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