DECEMBER 3, 2015
Coal mining bigwig winks at reporters after trial
BY JONATHAN MATTISE AND JOHN RABY
CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted Thursday of a misdemeanor count connected to a deadly coal mine explosion and acquitted of more serious charges.
A federal jury in West Virginia convicted Blankenship of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. The misdemeanor charge carries up to one year in prison. He was acquitted of a more serious conspiracy charge that could have netted five years in prison. He was also acquitted of making false statements and securities fraud.
Blankenship was 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 mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.
At a news conference after the verdict was announced, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin called it a “landmark day for the safety of coal miners.”
Defense attorney William Taylor said Blankenship plans to appeal.
“We are disappointed, but not as disappointed as we could have been. The case should have never been brought,” Taylor said.
Judy Jones Petersen, whose brother Dean Jones died in the Upper Big Branch explosion, said she felt vindicated by the verdict and directed a scathing comment at Blankenship: “Although you may not be judged responsible by the courts of this land, you are guilty. The blood of these 29 people is on your hands.”
Asked for a comment after the trial, Blankenship just winked. Only a wink, he was asked?
“Just a wink and a nod,” he said, citing a phrase used by the defense to debunk the conspiracy notion. Then he laughed.
Pam Napper, whose son, Josh Napper, was among the miners who died, said she wasn’t disappointed in the verdict.
“I’m just very hurt,” she said by telephone. “To think that that man could still walk the streets and keep that smile on his face knowing what he did to my son. He was only 25.