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Hostage Forced To Watch Prison Murder

January 5, 1986

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ One of the guards held hostage by rioting prisoners was forced to watch as jeering inmates ″carved up″ a prisoner accused of being an informer and another guard saw an inmate ″butchered,″ other guards said Sunday.

″They made him watch. They put on a show for him,″ one guard said.

The body of inmate Kent Slie, a convicted child molester and killer, was then dragged up and down a cellblock as other prisoners kicked and spit on it, said guards who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The guards said the correctional officer was Russell Lorentz, 42, of Moundsville. He was being treated Sunday for an ″anxiety reaction″ and influenza at Reynolds Memorial Hospital and was in fair condition, officials said.

Lorentz was one of 16 hostages seized in the New Year’s Day uprising by inmates brandishing homemade knives and spears. Prisoners controlled the decrepit, 120-year-old West Virginia Penitentiary for two days and killed three inmates before the last hostages were released Friday and the state regained control.

Gov. Arch Moore has said officials believe a group of inmates acted as ″judge, jury and executioner″ of prisoners suspected of informing on others.

Although Corrections Department policy prohibits officers from speaking to reporters, several who agreed to speak without being identified said that hostages witnessed the deaths of Slie and fellow inmate Jeff Atkinson, who was convicted of murdering a pregnant woman.

Atkinson’s murder was seen by a guard who ″had tilted his head back so he could peer out from behind a blindfold,″ one correctional officer said. He said the inmates apparently cut out Atkinson’s heart.

″He saw blood all over. Then he heard one guy say, ‘It’s amazing how this little thing will keep a fellow alive.’

″Then another one said, ‘Well it won’t keep him alive anymore.’ ″

The officer said he was told by the witness that ″they butchered Jeff and then carried his heart and guts all over.″

The guard said Atkinson had been a prison informer and had supplied information that foiled several plans to smuggle drugs and weapons into the prison.

The guards’ accounts were confirmed by an outside official who said he had spoken to hostages who witnessed the killings. The official also spoke on condition he not be identified.

Warden Jerry Hedrick was unavailable for comment Sunday, his office said. ″He has left instructions that we aren’t to talk with anyone and a spokesman has not been designated,″ one office employee said.

Prison employees said all inmates were locked in their cells Sunday as a search for weapons and contraband continued.

″The prisoners have more weapons than the officers,″ said Greg Denier, a spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 90 percent of the guards. ″They’ll tape scissors to a broom handle to make a spear.″

Denier said four guards had quit their jobs rather than return to the prison.

Hedrick had acknowledged earlier that prisoners manufacture weapons inside the prison, which has been under court order for more than two years to make improvements in living conditions.

Several correctional officers said officials also were looking for the hostage guards’ uniforms, which had been taken by inmates when the rioting began.

Lorentz was the only hostage still in the hospital Sunday. The others - 14 guards and a food service worker - were released after being treated for minor injuries.

Inmates said the New Year’s Day uprising was triggered by filthy conditions and restrictive visitation policies. They agreed Thursday to free the hostages, in stages, in return for a meeting with the governor to discuss grievances.

Court rulings have cited problems at the prison ranging from rats in cells to maggot-infested food. Legislators reported after visits to the prison last year that raw sewage dripped from ceiling pipes and formed pools between the cells.

Conditions inside the penitentiary ″are beyond anything you ought to do to human beings,″ said state Sen. Jerry Ash.

But other legislators are reluctant to spend money that otherwise could go to education, economic development and health care.

″The constituency is just not there,″ said House Finance Chairman George Farley.

Moore also said he would not comply with court orders for improvements at the penitentiary. ″The constitutional officers of this state will reform the institution,″ not the courts, he said.

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