Blankenship Pleads Not Guilty, Bond Set at $5 Million

Nov 20, 2014

Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship stood with three attorneys as he pleaded not guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Beckley. Blankenship was indicted on charges of conspiring to violate mine safety rules and then lying about it.  Blankenship appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort.   

Sketches of Don Blankenship and his attorney during arraignment hearing.
Credit Sketch artist Jesse Corlis

Families Can't Hide Their Emotions

It was an emotional day for several families of the victims as well as environmentalists turning out to witness the arraignment. Some family members fought back tears as Blankenship sat with his right arm dangling over the back of his seat, often looking back at the group in attendance.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued a gag order last week which prevents any parties involved, including attorneys and family members of the victims, from speaking with the media or releasing court documents.

Tommy Davis lost his son Cory Thomas in the explosion on April 5, 2010. Shortly after the gag order was issued, Tommy Davis spoke with WCHS-TV  saying, "I have nothing no more." Davis spoke to the media because he felt he had nothing else to lose.

Credit Jesse Corlis

  Gary Quarles lost his son Gary Wayne Quarles in the blast. Quarles spoke with West Virginia Public Radio before the gag order was issued. As a former Massey Energy miner, Quarles says he's familiar with Blankenship's management style.

Both Davis and Quarles attended the hearing. Several of the families of the victims couldn't hide their emotions when U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort decided on the conditions of the bond.

Some families broke down in tears just outside the courtroom when the hearing was over.

Bond Conditions

Both parties agreed to a $5 million bond. Blankenship's attorney requested he "return home" to his current residence out of state. Steve Ruby with the U.S. Attorney's Office argued that Blankenship was "in possession of a tremendous amount of money" with "notable foreign ties."

One of Blankenship's lawyers said Blankenship would be present "to fight the allegations." 

The judge ordered Blankenship to reside at an undisclosed address only referred to as, "residence number 1" with limited travel to the Southern District of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington D.C.

VanDervort also ordered Blankenship to avoid contact with the victims' families. Federal testimony shortly after the blast revealed that some of the men killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion were scared to speak out about unsafe conditions for fear of retaliation.

Judge VanDervort said the substantial charges, the fact that a grand jury found probable cause for conviction and the fact that Blankenship had a bank account in another country merited the conditions of the bond. 

His trial is scheduled for January 26 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Irene C. Berger in Beckley.