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Escaped prisoners caught in Nicholas County

By From staff reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After a little more than 30 hours on the run, two men who escaped a Pocahontas County prison were found walking along a road some 30 miles away.

A person living in the Fenwick area of Nicholas County contacted authorities early Monday after spotting who he thought were the escaped convicts from Denmar Correctional Center near Hillsboro, said Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman.

Troopers, sheriff's deputies and teams from the Division of Corrections combed the area, unsuccessfully, for Thomas Pennington, 40, and Larry Morehead, 48.

The pair was thought to have escaped from Denmar about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Law enforcement used helicopters and canines in the search. 

Troopers spotted the pair about 10 a.m. Monday along W.Va. 39 near Fenwick in Nicholas County, Baylous said.

He said the two started to walk away but the troopers caught them.

"There wasn't a whole lot of resistance," Baylous said. "They were taken to the ground."

Authorities were happy to have the pair back behind bars, though Monday they were concerned about the time they spent on the run.

"What were they doing all that time? We don't know," Baylous said. 

Troopers don't have any reason to believe Pennington and Morehead committed any other crimes during their time on lam, but still urged people to check in with family and friends in that area.

The two were being interviewed about the escape Monday afternoon. They will be taken to Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County, the state's only maximum-security facility, said Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the Division of Corrections.

Pennington and Morehead were assigned to Denmar in June. The medium-security prison was once a state hospital where patients with tuberculosis were treated. There are no cells, as Corrections opted to clean and repurpose the hospital rooms. The roughly 216 inmates housed there sleep on the second and third floors.

Rubenstein said the two were present for one bed check but were not where they were supposed to be during the following check. He said it appeared they left through a window in a restroom on their floor. He wasn't sure if they were being kept on the second or third floor.

The pair then scaled the facility's razor wire topped fence. Rubenstein said it appeared they used something to pull down the razor wire to prevent them from being injured. Prison officials found blood at the fence.

Escape charges were filed against them Sunday. If the county prosecutor moves forward with the case and the men are convicted, they could see an additional one to five years added to their sentences.

Rubenstein said they would also appear before an institutional hearing officer for internal disciplinary proceedings. Escaping is a Class 1 violation, he said, meaning it's one of the most serious infractions a prisoner can commit. He said if they were found guilty they would likely serve time in segregation.

"They won't go back to Denmar," Rubenstein said. "They'll be at Mount Olive for some time and they'll do their segregation there."

He said after the internal disciplinary hearing the men would likely be at Mount Olive or maybe Huttonsville Corrections Center in Randolph County for a period.

Rubenstein said he thought it interesting that these men tried to escape.

Morehead, who was convicted of second-degree sexual assault in 2007 in Nicholas County, was serving a 10- to 25-year sentence. He would have seen the parole board in 2017, meaning he was more than halfway to his parole eligibility.

"No disciplinary violations during his incarceration," Rubenstein said of Morehead. "He was basically doing what he would need to be doing to appear before the parole board in good standing."

Pennington had five infractions, which Rubenstein said were "not real serious," over his 15 years in prison. 

Pennington is serving a life sentence. He was convicted in 1998 of murdering George Owens of South Carolina and setting fire to his vehicle in Kanawha County. He went up for parole in February but was denied. He was to be eligible for parole again in February 2015.

He said Pennington was at the "mercy of the parole board."

"Bottom line, when appearing before the parole board, and I can't speak for them but when they see something like this on the record, it's not anything they want to see," Rubenstein said.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.

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