Continued Coverage and Reactions to Blankenship's Split Verdict

Nov 18, 2015

Editor's Note: This is a developing story. Be sure to keep refreshing this post for the latest. For more, follow @wvpublicnews on Twitter. For more on the verdict, see this post. 

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 3:45

United States Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez reacted to the Don Blankenship guilty verdict as well.

“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that no mine operator is above the law, that there must be accountability when people lose their lives because of the neglect of their employer.  Workers in this country have the right to go home safe and healthy at the end of every shift, and the jury clearly recognized the violation of that right in this case. I am grateful for the work of the Department of Justice, including U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and his team, in its investigation and prosecution of this landmark case, and we stand ready to assist the Department of Justice in future cases to protect and defend the safety of our nation’s workers. I also applaud the efforts of DOL staff in the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the office of the Solicitor of Labor and the Office of the Inspector General for their work on the investigation, and their tireless commitment every day to protecting workers’ rights.”

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 2:00

West Virginia ALF-CIO President Kenny Perdue had this to say after the guilty verdict for Blankenship.

“For far too long, West Virginia workers have suffered at the hands of careless employers who are more concerned about making money than they are about the safety and well being of their employees. Don Blankenship’s conviction of conspiring to violate mine safety regulations sends a powerful message to corporate CEOs that they will be held accountable for their actions.”

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 1:45

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement after the verdict.

“A measure of justice has been served through the conviction of Don Blankenship on federal charges of conspiring to violate mine safety standards. The truth that was common knowledge in the coalfields – that Don Blankenship cared little for the safety and health of miners working for his company and even less for the laws enforcing their rights – has finally been proven in court.

“This decision will not bring back the 52 people killed on Massey Energy property during Blankenship’s reign as the head of that company, including the 29 killed at the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010. Their families still must live without their loved ones, holding their grief in their hearts the rest of their lives.

“But a message has gone out today to every coal operator in America who is willing to skirt mine safety and health laws: you do so at your own personal risk. I thank the jury for having the courage to send this message and establish a clear deterrent to this kind of activity. Hopefully that deterrent will keep more miners alive and intact in the years to come.”

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 1:25

Senator Joe Manchin released the fololowing statement after the conviction of Don Blankenship this afternoon. 

“After a long and exhaustive trial, I am pleased the jury’s decision today has brought some measure of justice to one of the most tragic mining disasters in recent history. With this verdict, the state of West Virginia has set precedence and signaled that we will not allow the prioritization of production and profits over the safety of our workers. While nothing can ever bring back the 29 beloved souls who we lost on that tragic day, I hope that today brings some closure and peace to the families of the miners.”

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 12:44

Sentencing tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. on March 23. Defense says it will argue to push back date by a week.

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 12:34

The prosecution requested an additional $10 million bond, arguing that Blankenship still poses a flight risk. Judge Berger denied the motion.

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 12:19

Jurors have found former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a year of jail time. Deliberations lasted about 10 days.

The charges stemmed from an April 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. The blast killed 29 men who were working underground.

Jurors returned not-guilty verdicts on two counts of making false statements.

The government charged Blankenship with lying to investors and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission about Massey’s safety record following the Upper Big Branch explosion.

The trial began Oct. 1 in Charleston federal district court.

In seven weeks of testimony, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s office called 27 witnesses. The defense rested its case without calling a single witness.

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 10:15

Jurors, including one who fell ill on Wednesday, have resumed deliberations in ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s trial.

The jury returned to work Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, West Virginia.

Jurors have said twice they couldn’t agree on a verdict. They have deliberated for all or part of nine days.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break safety laws and defrauding mine regulators at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine and lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. The coal mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 3:56 p.m.

Judge Berger didn't rule on a motion the prosecution filed earlier today asking that Berger issue an additional Allen Charge before declaring a mistrial.

The jury will return to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to continue deliberating.

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 3:25 p.m.

The note Judge Berger received from the jury at 1:35 p.m. said one of the jurors was sick with a sore throat and chills. As a result, the jury said it didn't deliberate at all after lunch.

In a second note, received at 2:40 p.m., the jury asked to take a break at 3 p.m.

Judge Berger dismissed the jury for the day around 3:20 p.m. Deliberations in the case will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 1:52 p.m.

Judge Berger received a note from the jury at 1:35 p.m.

More details as they come in.

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

Federal prosecutors in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship filed a motion Wednesday asking Judge Irene Berger to issue an additional Allen Charge before declaring a mistrial.

Berger issued an Allen Charge Tuesday, asking jurors to both consider the minority and majority's opinions closely as they continued their deliberations. Judge Berger also added language advising jurors they could return a partial verdict if they could not reach unanimous agreement on all of the charges.

In Wednesday's motion, the government says while a charge may be premature at this point in the case, they wanted to give her ample time to consider giving it a second time.

The government argues coercion is unlikely and the jury "has demonstrated exemplary patience, attentiveness, and seriousness of mind." Prosecutors also argue that the jury has not said they cannot make progress, although they have twice returned a note claiming deadlock.

Prosecutors say in the motion that--even in the event of second Allen charge--jury deliberations are not disproportionate to the amount of evidence and testimony presented in the case.

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Jurors are starting their eighth full day of deliberations in the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

The jury resumed work at 9 a.m. Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Jurors told the judge Tuesday they remained deadlocked, but were instructed to keep trying.

Update: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 2:55 p.m.

While Judge Berger holds a  hearing on another case, Blankenship jurors passed another note at 2:45. More on that as information comes in. 

Update: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Federal District Judge Irene Berger issued an Allen charge to jurors in the case of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Tuesday morning.

In the charge, the judge urged jurors to consider both the majority and minority opinions as they continue to deliberate. Berger also added an instruction that if jurors can reach an agreement on some of the charges, they may return a partial verdict.

The charge came after a note from jurors around 11 a.m. Tuesday saying they were “deadlocked” and wanted further instructions. The defense object to giving the charge.

Update: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

Prosecution and Defense attorney's returned to the court room. The jury sent a note to the judge.

"Your honor the jury is still deadlocked do you have any further instructions?"

Judge Irene Berger said she would issue an Allen charge. An Allen charge is instructions given to prevent a hung jury by encouraging those in the minority opinion to reconsider.

Blankenship lead Defense Attorney Bill Taylor objected to issuing of Allen charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby asked for instructions to be issued to jury, stating if they can reach a decision on some charges they should return a verdict on those charges.

Ruby's request was initially proposed by the defense earlier in the trial, but the judge had previously denied it.

For more on what an Allen charge calls for visit Jury in Blankenship Trial Issued Allen Charge.

Update: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Jurors are returning for their seventh full day of deliberations in the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. The jury's deliberations resume Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, West Virginia. 

Update: Monday, November 30, 2015 at 5 p.m.

The jury has wrapped up deliberations for the day without a verdict.

Update: Monday, November 30, 2015 at 9:25 a.m.

Judge Irene Berger reminded the jury this morning in the trial of Don Blankenship to respect one other and to remain vigilant as they deliberate. She also urged them to not speak to anyone outside the jury room about the case.

Update: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 5:10 p.m.

Blankenship's defense team moved again for a mistrial, saying that the jury is deadlocked. The prosecution countered that there is no evidence that the jury is not making progress on a verdict.

Judge Irene Berger denied the motion, saying jurors heard five and a half weeks of complex testimony and she did not believe that five days of deliberation is too long. She said jurors haven't indicated to her that they are deadlocked.

The jury will return to the courthouse on Monday, November 30, to continue deliberating.

Update: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 3:35 p.m.

Jurors continue to deliberate. No notes or Judge's orders have been issued so far today.

Update: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 9 a.m.

Jurors are returning to deliberate in the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

The jury is slated for its fifth full day of deliberations Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, West Virginia. They won’t deliberate Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because of Thanksgiving.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break safety laws and defrauding mine regulators at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine, and lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. The coal mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.

Prosecutors contended that Blankenship was a micromanager who meddled in the smallest details at the mine, and cared more about money than safety.

Blankenship's defense team said the government offered no evidence he was involved in a conspiracy.

Deliberations began the evening of Nov. 17.

Update: Monday, November 23, 2015 at 5 p.m.

Jurors in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship finished their fourth full day of deliberations at about 5 p.m. Monday. They are scheduled to return to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Update: Monday, November 23, 2015 at 10:35 a.m.

Jurors began their fourth full day of deliberating at 9 a.m. this morning. They took a break at 10:30 a.m.

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 5:01 p.m.

Jurors in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship were unable to reach a verdict Friday. Deliberations will continue Monday at 9 a.m.

If the trial continues beyond Tuesday afternoon, Judge Irene Berger said jurors will not meet Wednesday, Thursday or Friday to allow for a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Deliberations began Tuesday around 4 p.m. following closing statements from both sides and a final rebuttal from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby.

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 3:14 p.m.

Don Blankenship's lead defense attorney Bill Taylor again moved for a mistrial on Friday afternoon.

Taylor said the long distance travel required of jurors (six jurors have 2-hour round trips, one juror has a 3-hour round trip) and the upcoming holiday increases the likelihood of potential coercion.

Taylor also argued that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday will force the jury to come up with a verdict more quickly rather than work their way to a decision.

Judge Irene Berger denied the request for a mistrial. She said she will be advising jurors this evening on their schedule over the holidays. Judge Berger indicated she would give allow jurors to take Wednesday through Friday off from deliberations.

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The reason for a Friday morning closed door meeting between prosecutors, defense attorneys for Don Blankenship and Judge Irene Berger has also been revealed in open court.

Friday afternoon, Judge Irene Berger said a freelance news reporter, had approached two members of the jury Friday morning. Those jurors reported that interaction to Judge Berger. 

Attorneys for Blankenship and the prosecution then convened with Judge Berger Friday morning in a closed door meeting that lasted about 30 minutes.

Berger said she conducted the closed door meeting with the entire jury and both the prosecution and defense to learn the extent of the conversation between the reporter and the two jurors.

The reporter has been asked to leave the courthouse.

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Also, at 2:45 p.m. Friday, jurors sent a note to Judge Irene Berger asking for clarification of words related to counts two and three in the federal indictment of Don Blankenship. Those words are "condone" and "strive."

Those words are contained in the following sentences from the indictment:

"We do not condone any violation of MSHA standards."

"We strive to be in compliance at all times."

Judge Berger said that since the terms have no legal definition and are not defined in statute, she will give no further instructions.

Jurors continue to deliberate a verdict. 

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 1:29 p.m.

In a motion filed with the court Friday, the Associated Press has requested the court release the names and addresses of jurors in the trial of Don Blankenship.

Written by attorney Sean McGinley of Charleston, the motion argues there is a constitutional right for media and the public to access this information. It concludes:

The right of public access as held in Baltimore Sun, supra, clearly applies here, as the jury was chosen over a month ago, and there is no constitutionally valid to withhold the names and addresses of the trial jurors. The Associated Press therefore requests and moves the Court to direct the Clerk to release the names and addresses of the trial jurors immediately.

Jurors are slated to continue deliberations at 1:50 p.m.

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.

Jurors in the trial of Don Blankenship are taking a break for lunch. They will return to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 1:50 p.m.

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 11:41 a.m.

Deliberations continue in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship as prosecutors and defense attorneys have finished a closed door meeting with Judge Irene Berger. 

Speaking to West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the closed door meeting between prosecutors, Blankenship defense attorneys and Judge Irene Berger is "a matter she will place on the record when we get back together."

Goodwin did not say when the parties would meet again. 

As for the reason the meeting was closed off to members of the media, Upper Big Branch vicitims' families and others, Goodwin said it was "to keep the integrity of the proceedings together as we move forward."

Marra also reports that many family members were upset at being kept out of the closed meeting. 

Also Friday morning, Judge Berger denied Blankenship's defense attorneys' emergency motion for jury instruction. That motion was filed Thursday morning following news that jurors sent a note to Berger telling her they could not agree on a verdict.

Update: Friday, November 20, 2015 at 11:08 a.m.

Attorneys for the prosecution and defense team for former Massey CEO Don Blankenship are now in a closed door meeting with Judge Irene Berger. Media, vicitms' families and others not being allowed in.

A courtroom security guard did not give a reason to West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporters at the courthouse.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports a U.S. Marshal refused a request to deliver a note of protest to the judge about the closed meeting. 

There is still no word on whether the jury has reached a verdict. 

Jurors returned to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 9 a.m. Friday for more deliberations on a verdict. 

Update: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 5:00 p.m.

Jurors in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship have yet to reach a verdict. Upon being released just before 5 p.m., Judge Irene Berger ordered jurors to return to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 9 a.m. Friday. 

Thursday marked second full day of deliberations, as jurors were discharged by Judge Berger for the deliberation process Tuesday around 4 p.m. 

Update: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 1:22 p.m.

Defense attorneys for Don Blankenship have filed an emergency motion for jury instruction following a note from the jury to Judge Irene Berger asking how long they should deliberate and that they could not agree on a verdict.

Blankenship's defense is asking Berger to provide the following instruction to the jury immediately upon its return from lunch:

I wish to follow up on my instruction before lunch to continue your deliberations. As I instructed you previously:

[I]t is your duty as jurors to discuss this case with one another in the jury room. You should try to reach agreement if you can do so without violence to individual judgment, because a verdict – whether guilty or not guilty – must be unanimous.

Each of you must make your own conscientious decision, but only after you have considered all of the evidence, discussed it fully with your fellow jurors, and listened to the views of your fellow jurors.

Do not be afraid to change your opinions if the discussions persuade you that you should. But do not come to a decision simply because other jurors think it is right or simply to reach a verdict.

Jurors were scheduled to return from a lunch break at 1:20 p.m. Thursday.

Update: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

Deliberations will continue Thursday afternoon in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. Jurors will return to the federal courthouse at 1:20 this afternoon. 

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, jurors sent a note to Judge Irene Berger asking how long they should deliberate and letting her know they could not agree on a verdict.

The defense moved for a mistrial, but Judge Berger directed the jury to continue deliberations. 

"Given the length of this trial, the number of witnesses you've heard and the amount of time you've been deliberating, I'm going to order you to continue deliberating," Berger told the jury.

Update: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 9:42 a.m.

Jurors have returned to the federal courthouse in Charleston to continue deliberating  a verdict in the trial of Don Blankenship.

Wednesday marked the first full day of deliberations after closing arguments wrapped up around that afternoon. Judge Irene Berger discharged the jury for deliberations around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

According to reports from the courthouse, jurors have requested to listen to Blankenship's self-recorded tapes that were admitted into evidence by the prosecution.

Update: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 4:52 p.m.

Jurors have yet to reach a verdict in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

They'll return to the federal courthouse in Charleston at 9 a.m. Thursday for a third day of deliberations. 

Deliberations began around 4 p.m. Tuesday after prosecutors and defense attorneys presented closing arguments.  Excluding a 20 minutes break in the morning and just over an hour for lunch, Wednesday brought the first full day of the 12-member jury mulling over the evidence and testimony.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail's Ken Ward reports that jurors asked to re-listen to tapes admitted into evidence by the prosecution.  

Don #Blankenship jury has gone home, after asking to listen again to recordings of former Massey CEO's phone calls.

Update: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:50 p.m.

Jurors are scheduled to return at 1:10 p.m. to continue deliberations. The jury broke for lunch around noon Tuesday. 

Original Post: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:16 a.m.

Jurors have begun deliberations in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. 

Deliberations began around 4 p.m. Tuesday, following a final closing rebuttal from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby.

On Wednesday, the jury returned for deliberations and began around 9 a.m. 

Blankenship is charged with conspiracy to violated federal mine safety standards and lying to investors and securities officials about the safety record of his company. The charges stem from an investigation into the April 2010 explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 miners lost their lives.

If convicted, the 65-year-old Blankenship faces up to 30 years in prison. 

Follow this link to read the transcript of closing arguments and jury instructions in the trial.