U.S. Attorney Praises Blankenship Conspiracy Conviction

The trial lasted more than two months -- jury selection began Oct. 1 -- and U.S. District Judge Irene Berger had read the jury an "Allen charge," which a judge hearing a criminal case can use when a jury has communicated that it is unable to reach a verdict.

After a jury in a Charleston, W.Va., federal courtroom convicted former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on Dec. 3 of conspiracy to willfully violate federal mine health and safety standards, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he hoped the case "will make a difference throughout the country."

Blankenship was acquitted of two other charges, securities fraud and making false statements. The conspiracy charge stemmed from the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners inside Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine.

"This is a landmark day for the safety of coal miners, and not just coal miners, but all working men and women," said Goodwin, U.S. attorney for West Virginia's Southern District. "The jury's verdict sends a clear and powerful message: It doesn't matter who you are, how rich you are, or how powerful you are. If you gamble with the safety of the people who work for you, you will be held accountable."

The trial lasted more than two months -- jury selection began Oct. 1 -- and U.S. District Judge Irene Berger had read the jury an "Allen charge," which a judge hearing a criminal case can use when a jury has communicated that it is unable to reach a verdict. The instruction tells the jurors to continue deliberating and strongly urges them to return a verdict.

Goodwin's office posted a news release saying the jurors heard evidence from 27 witnesses, many of whom were coal miners who worked at the mine before the explosion. One witness was Bill Ross, former manager of technical services at Massey, who testified that he warned Blankenship about the company's practice of rampant violations and told him before the explosion that the company's practice of ignoring or defrauding MSHA could not be sustained without the possibility of a serious accident that could have fatalities, it says, adding, "The evidence also showed that Blankenship received daily updates on safety violations and helped perpetuate them."

"The evidence overwhelmingly showed an enterprise that embraced safety crimes as a business strategy. It was reprehensible, and the jury saw it for what it was. Time and time again the defendant chose to put profits over safety. He got rich and the coal miners who worked for him paid the price," Goodwin said. "This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime. It is my hope that this case will make a difference throughout this country, and make the places where working men and women spend their days a little bit safer. Everyone deserves to go home to their families and friends when their shift is over."

Blankenship could be sentenced to as much as one year in prison and fined up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct when he is sentenced on March 23, 2016, in Charleston.

Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey after the explosion; Blankenship's conviction is the fifth criminal conviction resulting from the investigation of the explosion and the company's practices.

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