Fate of Former Coal Mining CEO in Hands of Jury – by Kris Maher (Wall Street Journal – November 18, 2015)


Don Blankenship of Massey Energy faces charges over accident that killed 29

CHARLESTON, W.Va.—The fate of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who faces criminal charges in connection with a deadly 2010 coal mine explosion, is now in the hands of a West Virginia jury.

Mr. Blankenship, 65 years old, has been charged with three felony counts that carry a maximum of 30 years in prison, in a rare prosecution of a top corporate executive following an industrial accident. The case stems from an investigation into the explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in which 29 miners were killed in the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in four decades.

After roughly six weeks of testimony by former Massey executives and coal miners and the inclusion of more than 400 trial exhibits, including phone conversations secretly taped by Mr. Blankenship, a federal judge turned the case over to a jury of eight women and four men on Tuesday.

Mr. Blankenship has denied any wrongdoing. On Monday, his attorneys rested their case without calling a single witness, and they have argued that prosecutors failed to meet the burden of proof required to convict Mr. Blankenship on any counts.

“In this country, we don’t convict people, rich or poor, on the basis of ‘maybes,’” lead defense attorney William Taylor said in his closing statement Tuesday. “We require the government to prove more than that a man was in charge of a company when a terrible tragedy occurred.”

The closely watched trial has been one of the most high-profile cases in West Virginia in decades, featuring one of most the painful episodes in the state’s recent history and one of its most powerful and polarizing figures.

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