"Neither one of these individuals had any type of lengthy disciplinary history. Pennington had been in our system for 14 years and neither of their histories would identify them as an escape risk," Rubenstein said.
In 1998, Pennington, 40, previously of St. Albans, was found guilty in Kanawha Circuit Court of murdering his male lover. Jurors attached a recommendation of mercy to their first-degree guilty verdict
According to previous reports, Pennington shot 47-year-old George Russell Owens of Marion, S.C., twice in the head and burned his vehicle in February 1997. Owens' body was found in a shallow grave at a South Charleston dump.
Pennington told police that Owens became obsessive and would make trips to the Charleston area to follow him and his wife. Jurors also found Pennington guilty of third-degree arson for setting fire to Owens' vehicle. Morehead, 48, was serving a sentence for sexual assault in Nicholas County.
Assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Tera Salango has been fearful for several years of an inmate escaping from Denmar, she said Monday.
Salango recalled driving to the facility about three years ago to testify at Dale Guthrie's parole hearing. Guthrie was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Salango's brother, Todd Farley, in 1993.
"I remember the windows were open on the upper floors," Salango said Monday. "You could see the curtains blowing in the wind. I remember thinking it didn't feel like a prison where a convicted murderer should be housed."
Guthrie has since been moved to Huttonsville Correctional Center, according to the Division of Corrections website.
Rubenstein said he understands when the agency is criticized for its decisions.
"Over the years, we've made tweaks to our classification system and we are very cautious in our moves and in our placements," he said. "I realize the nature of the division of corrections is that we can be open to criticism as far as those movements occur, but we've got a system that is full right now and quite a few who have been sentenced sitting in the regional jails awaiting placement.
"It's not that we just make movements for the sake of placing somebody. We take a number of factors into consideration."