Blankenship Found Guilty of Conspiracy in W. Virginia Mine Blast

By Kara Van Pelt | December 3, 2015

Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of conspiring to violate safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 blast that killed 29 people.

Relatives of those killed and prosecutors hailed the decision as sending a message on mine safety on coal-rich West Virginia even though the jury found Blankenship not guilty of making false statements and of securities fraud through lying about safety practices.

One of Blankenship’s lawyers, Bill Taylor, told reporters the defense team was disappointed by the misdemeanor conviction but doubted Blankenship would serve any time in prison. Sentencing was set for March 23.

Blankenship, 65, faces a maximum $250,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told reporters he was not disappointed with the verdict. “It brings justice that is long overdue,” he said.

The jury had deliberated more than two weeks and had twice told Judge Irene Berger it was deadlocked. Blankenship’s lawyers did not present a single witness.

Judy Jones Petersen, whose brother was among the 29 men who died, said the decision had put coal mine executives and operators on notice about mine safety.

“Even though Blankenship wasn’t convicted of all charges, he is guilty of reckless disregard of human life and the loss of 29 souls through reckless disregard and negligent homicide through just his greed,” she said.

The Upper Big Branch explosion was the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said the core of the case dealt with violation of mine safety laws.

“It is a misdemeanor but a critical part of justice is accountability. The fact we were able to obtain that kind of justice today is a great victory,” he said.

Massey Energy was bought in 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources Inc for about $7 billion.

(Reporting by Kara Van Pelt; Editing by Ian Simpson, Bernard Orr)

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