Judge Denies Ex-Coal CEO Blankenship’s Request To Overturn Conviction

Jan 15, 2020

A federal judge has denied a request by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to overturn his criminal conviction for his role in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. 

In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia Irene Berger denied Blankenship’s request to set asside his conviction for his role in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion be set aside.

Blankenship served a one-year prison sentence for a misdemeanor charge for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards. The April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia killed 29 men.

Blankenship was seeking the reversal of his conviction because attorneys for the U.S. government failed to hand over documents, including emails and records related to federal Mine Health and Safety Administration, or MSHA, employees. His attorneys argued that could have exonerated the former CEO. 

In August, Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn agreed with Blankenship’s arguments and recommended his conviction be reversed. 

Berger disagreed. In her 37-page ruling, she wrote that she agreed that federal prosecutors erred when they failed to turn over documents prior to Blankenship’s trial.

“The sheer number of undisclosed documents is troubling,” Berger said. 

But, she said, ultimately that was not enough to reverse his conviction, writing “there is clear precedent that guides the analysis and dictates the ultimate resolution in this matter.”

Blankenship can appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. A request for comment was not immediately returned.