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Blankenship Trial Proceeds Behind Closed Doors

The first day of jury selection in the trial of Don Blankenship.
Jeff Pierson
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The fourth day of jury selection in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship ended behind closed doors Tuesday evening without much explanation of what happened in the two hours both sets of attorneys spent alone with the judge in the courtroom.

Family members of Upper Big Branch victims and members of the media were placed in an overflow courtroom Tuesday morning to watch the proceedings via a video conference call, but around 5:10 p.m., the feed cut out.

After feeble attempts to reconnect the system, members of the media were left to sit outside the locked courtroom doors.

“I don’t know what happened to the video,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin told reporters as he exited the courtroom around 7:15 p.m.

“The video feed is not our responsibility. Please go see the judge.”

After asking, a courtroom security officer said Federal District Judge Irene Berger was “not going to see anybody at this time.”

Goodwin said Berger did rule from the bench on some in limine motions, a pre-trial request that certain inadmissible evidence is not referred to during the trial. He did not say, however, how she ruled on any of the motions or even how many were taken up during the locked door proceedings.

Many of the motions are attempts by Blankenship’s attorneys to restrict the prosecution from talking about specific pieces of evidence like his compensation and stock holdings and citations issued at the Upper Big Branch mine and to prevent witnesses like Kentucky mining expert Tracey Stumbo or former Massey executive David Hughart from testifying.

Before the video feed into the courtroom dropped, Judge Berger had begun reading jurors a list of potential witnesses.

Both Stumbo and Hughart were on that list, along with former Massey and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration ventilation expert Bill Ross, Chris Blanchard, the former president of a Massey subsidiary, and Stanley Stewart, who was employed at the Upper Big Branch mine and testified before a Congressional Committee he was 300 feet underground  when the explosion occurred.

As of Tuesday evening, it was unclear if Berger had officially seated a jury and when opening statements will begin.

Blaneknship is charged with conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws and lying to investors about the safety record of Massey Energy after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in 2010 killed 29 men. 


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