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Blankenship Conviction Affirmed, Will Finish 1-Year Sentence

Don Blankenship
Joel Ebert
The Charleston Gazette-Mail
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship enters the federal courthouse in Charleston before his Oct. 2015 trial.

A panel of appellate judges has affirmed a ruling that sent former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to prison.  The decision means he’ll serve out the remainder of his one-year prison term in a California penitentiary. 

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday morning that “the district court committed no reversible error.”

Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety laws in December of 2015 and was later sentenced to a year in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. His attorneys appealed the conviction.

Lead defense attorney Bill Taylor argued that District Judge Irene Berger had erred when instructing the jury on the definition of “willfulness” and the government’s burden of proof after the 8-week trial.

Taylor also told a three-judge panel of the court in Richmond during an October hearing that not allowing him to re-cross examine a witness was also grounds for overturning the conviction.

The court, however, disagreed in a 34-page ruling.

Blankenship began serving his sentence in May 2016. His charges stemmed from a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, that killed 29 men.

Blankenship was not charged with their deaths, but with promoting a culture of disregard for mine safety laws. The government pointed to years of high numbers of violations, and memos and recorded phone calls of Blankenship as proof. 

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.

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