Blankenship on Trial

On April 5, 2010, 29 men were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia.

Federal regulators say a history of unsafe practices led to the explosion and prosecutors are now trying to prove that culture at Massey Energy came from the top down, starting with former CEO Don Blankenship.

These are the stories as they are told in the courtroom, the evidence as presented by both sides and the community's reactions to the trial of Don Blankenship. 

  

Jeff Pierson

A federal judge reversed a previous ruling Wednesday, admitting new documents into the case of ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

On West Virginia Morning, more recordings made by ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship are played for jurors in his trial on conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws.  Also, officials in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania sign a natural gas production pact.  These stories on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting – telling West Virginia’s story.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We can’t outrun this bear.” “Without MSHA we would blow ourselves up.” “I have to get one thousand people off the payroll.” These are all statements jurors in Charleston listened to Don Blankenship make during phone conversations he recorded in his Belfry, Kentucky, office in the few years before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

The ex-Massey Energy CEO is charged with conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors about the company’s safety record after the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men. Those secret recordings are now being used by federal prosecutors to make a case against him. 

AP Photo

In ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's criminal trial, prosecutors have started replaying phone calls that the executive secretly recorded in his office.

Don Blankenship's attorney Bill Taylor
Jeff Pierson

In this week's episode of the podcast "Blankenship on Trial," host Scott Finn discusses the first full week of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's trial with reporter Ashton Marra and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam.

Exhibit 1, Coal Seam Diagram
U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of West Virginia

Federal prosecutors in the case against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship have begun to release exhibits introduced as evidence in the trial. Attorney Booth Goodwin and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia began uploading the exhibits Thursday to a page on the office's website. 

The exhibits entered as evidence include diagrams of coal mines, videos of mining equipment used in the process, animations of mine ventilation systems and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration standards, among others. 

Jeff Pierson

Money. That’s what both sides arguing the case of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship say his trial boils down to.

For the prosecution, Blankenship employed a top-down leadership style that protected his own financial interests - both his $12 million annual salary and his substantial stock holdings in Massey.

For the defense, it’s that same money that made him a target.

Blankenship Trial
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

A jury has been seated in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.  Twelve jurors and three alternates have been selected to hear the case against Blankenship who is charged with violating federal coal mine safety laws and lying to investors about the company's safety record.

Opening statements by federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are set to begin at 10:20 Wednesday morning.

Listen to the Latest from the Blankenship Trial

Oct 7, 2015

  On West Virginia Morning the latest from the trial of Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy.  We'll talk with reporter Ashton Marra who has been sitting with other reporters in a separate courtroom from the proceedings and Charleston attorney Mike Hissam.  That's on West Virginia Morning from West Virginia Public Broadcasting - telling West Virginia's story.  

The first day of jury selection in the trial of Don Blankenship.
Jeff Pierson

The fourth day of jury selection in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship ended behind closed doors Tuesday evening without much explanation of what happened in the two hours both sets of attorneys spent alone with the judge in the courtroom.

A memo newly filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office depicts concerns a former Massey Energy employee, and key witness in the prosecution’s case, had over safety within Massey’s mines, warning the company needed to “change the way we do business.”

Brianhayden1980 / wikimedia Commons

Potential jurors have returned to a Charleston courtroom Friday as Federal District Judge Irene Berger continues to try to seat a jury in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Don Blankenship
Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The latest developments in the federal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. All times are local:

2:05 p.m.

The judge in the case against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship said she would require exhibits used in the trial to be available for the media the next day.

Jeff Pierson

Host Scott Finn discusses the first day of jury selection in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship with reporter Ashton Marra. They talk about the lack of access to the courtroom for both members of the media and family members of those who lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Charleston Gazette-Mail's David Gutman discusses Blankenship's political influence in the West Virginia. Ten years ago, Blankenship attempted to bankroll the Republican Party to move his political agenda forward. A decade later many of the issues Blankenship pushed for have been approved and his hired political operatives remain major figures in the West Virginia GOP.

Don Blankenship
Joel Ebert / The Charleston Gazette-Mail

The trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship began Thursday, Oct. 1, in Charleston. Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors about the safety record of his company following the April 2010, Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 men.

AP Photo

As the state's focus shifts to Charleston this week for the start of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship's trial, we're taking a look back at a 2005 special episode of Outlook titled "The Kingmaker."

The half hour special profiles Blankenship and his political influence at the time, just after the 2004 election when he spent some $5 million on the campaign to elect Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

AP Photo/Jeff Gentner, File / AP

Once he was considered untouchable, but next week former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is scheduled to go on trial on conspiracy to violate mine safety standards and conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials charges. Blankenship denies the charges.

Those charges stem from an investigation that followed the Upper Big Branch Disaster that killed 29 men in 2010. It’s a trial that folks in the coalfields never thought would happen.

In this episode, we take a look back at how we got here and talk about the significance of this case.  You can also hear part of a special investigative series of reports about outlaw coal mining companies, that keep operating despite injuries, violations and millions of dollars in fines.

Blankenship Trial
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

On Monday April 5, 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, killed 29 miners. At the time, the mine was owned by Massey Energy, which federal regulators and a state funded independent investigation found responsible for the blast. Massey’s CEO was Don Blankenship.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

A federal judge has denied a motion from former Massey CEO Don Blankenship to delay his trial slated to begin October 1.

Judge Irene Berger issued the order Thursday.

Blankenship’s attorneys filed the motion to reschedule last week after receiving more than 70,000 documents from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office. Blankenship's attorneys said they needed more time to review the documents. 

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