Updated: Blankenship Defense Rests Without Calling a Single Witness

Nov 16, 2015

Jurors in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will soon be asked to deliver a verdict.

At 10:10 a.m. Monday, the prosecution rested its case. In a surprising move just moments after a bench conference, the defense also rested without calling any witnesses to the stand.

Judge Irene Berger dismissed jury for the day. Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense will meet with Berger at 1:30 p.m. Monday to discuss instructions for the jury. 

Jurors were instructed to return to the courthouse Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors called 27 witnesses over the course of 24 days of testimony. Witnesses included FBI special agent James Lafferty, former Massey safety specialist Bill Ross, former Performance Coal Company operator Chris Blanchard and miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch mine. 

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia and Charleston attorney Mike Hissman called the defense's strategy to call no witnesses "highly unusual" but noted there are likely two reasons for the defense calling no witnesses.

"They must have felt it would be repetitive to put on their own case," explained Hissam.

"The second [reason] is that they don't have to worry about losing credibility with the jury by putting on their own case," Hissam added. " Now, they can play offense. They can attack the government's case in closing arguments."

The 65-year-old Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors about the safety record of his company. If convicted, he faces up to three decades in prison.

Charges in the case stem from an investigation into an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va, in April 2010 where 29 men died.