A federal judge has denied nine motions to dismiss charges against former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship related to a 2010 mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 people.
Blankenship faces three felony counts for allegedly ignoring hundreds of safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine and conspiring to cover up violations. The blast was the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.
Blankenship’s attorneys had sought to have charges dismissed. They said a conspiracy charge was so broadly argued that it could cover the correction of safety violations.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger of West Virginia’s Southern District rejected the motions late on Wednesday.
Of the bid to toss the conspiracy charge, she wrote that Blankenship’s “argument that he only corrected violations, and thus, his alleged acts were not criminal, borders on the absurd.”
Blankenship, who led Massey from 2000 to 2010, pleaded not guilty in 2014 and is free on a $5 million cash bond.
U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort granted an order on Wednesday allowing Blankenship to attend a race car event in Ohio on Friday and Saturday in which his son is a contestant.
Blankenship faces a maximum 31 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Massey Energy was purchased in 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources Inc for about $7 billion.
Blankenship’s trial is scheduled to start on July 13. His lawyers have requested a delay until January, saying they needed more time to prepare. (Reporting by Elizabeth Daley in Pittsburgh; Editing by Ian Simpson and Mohammad Zargham)
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