Donald Blankenship Prosecutors Urge Jail in [Coal] Mine Safety Case – by Alan Blinder (New York Times – March 29, 2016)

A federal prosecutor has urged a judge in West Virginia to sentence Donald L. Blankenship, who was chief executive of Massey Energy Company when 29 workers were killed in a mine explosion, to the maximum of a year in jail for conspiring to violate safety standards.

Lawyers for Mr. Blankenship, whom a jury convicted of a misdemeanor charge in December, asked Judge Irene C. Berger of Federal District Court in Charleston to impose a far less severe punishment of a fine and probation.

Mr. Blankenship was not tried on any charges that accused him of direct responsibility for the 2010 deaths at Upper Big Branch mine, which investigators said exploded because of improper ventilation that allowed gases to accumulate. Yet to many critics, Mr. Blankenship’s conviction offers the greatest opportunity for justice after the accident, the deadliest in American mining in four decades.

Judge Berger has scheduled sentencing for April 6, and the memos that lawyers submitted late Monday are expected to shape her decision. Although the Justice Department said that federal guidelines suggested a prison term of 15 to 21 months, the law under which Mr. Blankenship was convicted does not allow Judge Berger to sentence him to more than a year.

“Given the magnitude of defendant’s crime, a sentence shorter than the maximum could only be interpreted as a declaration that mine safety laws are not to be taken seriously,” Steven R. Ruby, an assistant United States attorney, wrote in his sentencing recommendation. He said existing law “offers no adequate punishment” for Mr. Blankenship’s conduct.

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