A federal appeals court ruling has lifted the veil on months of legal jockeying in the upcoming criminal trial of West Virginia coal baron Donald Blankenship.
Blankenship, the former CEO of one-time coal giant Massey, allegedly conspired to systematically skirt safety regulations in the company’s mines, ultimately resulting in the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., that killed 29 miners.
The explosion was caused when a sparks from a longwall shearer ignited a pocket of methane, generating a fireball that caused a second, more deadly explosion when it traveled down the mine and hit a bunch of coal dust. That blast tore through two and a half miles of mine, killing 29 of 31 men working in the area. State and federal investigators blamed Massey and a culture of skirting mining safety regulations.
A grand jury indicted Blankenship in November on four charges: conspiring to willfully commit routine violations of federal mine safety laws; conspiring to impede administration of the federal mine safety laws; making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the wake of the explosion; and securities fraud. If convicted, he faces 31 years in prison.
But documents made public for the first time Thursday suggest that Blankenship, who has famously avoided prosecution for past misdeeds, has no intention of serving that time. At the least, he’s going to put it off as long as possible.
Read more in my story for Grist.