As officials tightened control over the West Virginia Penitentiary after three days of rioting in which three inmates died, Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. (R) and his predecessor, Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), traded charges of cowardice and misguided policies.

Moore said on Friday that the dead prisoners were executed by fellow inmates after they were judged to be "snitches." Moore went on later to blame the deaths on informant policies begun by the Rockefeller administration in 1979.

In response, Rockefeller's office issued a statement saying that Moore was "cowardly and contemptible" for making such a charge and asking where the governor had been during the uprising.

"For three days during this crisis, Gov. Moore was nowhere to be found," said Rockefeller aide Tim Gay. "For reasons known only to himself, the governor chose to leave the hard negotiating in Moundsville to his press secretary."

Moore's office initially refused to reveal his whereabouts. But Friday he told reporters here that he stayed at his Florida vacation home because his presence in the state would have "intensified matters, making them worse." He said he stayed in touch by telephone.

Moore did not say whether he ordered a change in the "snitch" system after succeeding Rockefeller last January. Moore's office said it could not elicit comment from Moore or the governor's spokesman, John Price, on whether changes had been ordered.

Moore and Rockefeller have long been political rivals.

Moore defeated Rockefeller in the state's 1972 gubernatorial election. The state constitution required Moore to step aside in 1976 after two terms, and Rockefeller was elected. Rockefeller defeated Moore in the 1980 election, then moved to the Senate last year and Moore was elected governor again.

The New Year's Day uprising ended Friday when the last of 16 hostages were released in return for a meeting with Moore to discuss grievances in the 120-year-old prison.

Today, prison guards cleaned up wreckage and searched for weapons possibly hidden by inmates, who were returned to their cells when guards reestablished control.

Deputy Corrections Commissioner William Whyte said cleanup efforts by the guards would concentrate on the kitchen and dining hall. The kitchen's oven was used by inmates as an "incinerator," Whyte said, making it unusable for cooking for now