Court upholds conviction of Massey ex-CEO in fatal mine blast

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By Jonathan Stempel

<span class="articleLocation”>Jan 19 A federal appeals court on Thursday
rejected former Massey Energy Co Chief Executive Officer Donald
Blankenship’s bid to overturn his conviction and one-year prison
sentence related to his role in a 2010 West Virginia mine
explosion that killed 29 workers.

The decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals likely
means Blankenship will remain in prison at least until he is
eligible for release on May 10. Blankenship led Massey from 2000
to 2010 and is the most prominent U.S. coal executive convicted
of a crime related to miners’ deaths.

Blankenship, 66, argued that his December 2015 conviction on
a misdemeanor conspiracy charge should be voided because the
federal indictment did not specify which U.S. mine safety
regulations he conspired to violate, and because of several
errors by the trial judge.

But the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court said the
indictment was sufficiently detailed, and that the trial judge
did not commit reversible error when instructing jurors about
the meaning of “willfully” violating mine safety regulations.

Contrary to Blankenship’s position, a mine operator is not
immune from criminal liability “by characterizing his mine’s
repeated failure to comply with safety laws as a consequence of
tough decisions he had to make weighing production, safety, and
regulatory compliance,” Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote.

A lawyer for Blankenship did not immediately respond to
requests for comment. The office of U.S. Attorney Carol Casto in
Charleston, West Virginia, had no immediate comment.

The fire caused by a methane or natural gas leak likely set
off the fatal April 2010 blast at Massey’s now-closed Upper Big
Branch mine, located about 40 miles (65 km) south of Charleston,
according to federal investigators.

The death toll was the highest in a U.S. mine accident since
91 workers died in a 1972 Idaho silver mine fire.

Blankenship was also fined $250,000 in connection with his
conviction. He was acquitted on related felony charges.

Once known as West Virginia’s “king of coal” for his
working-class background and tough approach to business,
Blankenship helped build Massey into Appalachia’s largest coal
producer, with more than 7,000 employees and more than 40 mines.

Massey was acquired in 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources Inc
for about $7 billion. Alpha Natural filed for bankruptcy in
August 2015 amid a coal industry slowdown, and emerged last
July.



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