Ashton Marra

Assistant News Director, Statehouse Reporter

Ashton Marra is the Assistant News Director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, coordinating the coverage of her fellow reporters under Interim News Director Jesse Wright, and serves as the producer for the morning news magazine West Virginia Morning. She also serves as the fill in host of the program.

Ashton covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning with the latest statehouse news, from politics to policy and everything in between. You can keep up with her work on social media through Twitter and tumblr.

During the legislative session, Ashton focuses on the state Senate, bringing daily reports from the inner-workings of the state’s upper house on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s nightly television show The Legislature Today.  She also hosts the show, interviewing lawmakers, lobbyists and leading a roundtable discussion focused on the top stories of the week with her colleagues from the Capitol press corps.

Ashton served as the producer and host of Viewpoint, West Virginia Public Broadcasting's 10-week political talk show in the fall of 2014. The weekly, hour-long program included in-depth interviews with candidates, analysis and a reporter roundtable leading up to the 2014 general election. 

Ashton has most recently received national attention for her coverage of the January 9, 2014, chemical spill in Charleston. Her work was featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, WBUR's Here & Now, KCRW's To The Point, the PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera America. She was named the 2014 Associated Press "Outstanding Reporter of the Virginias."

Ashton came to WVPBS in October of 2012 from ABC News’ morning program Good Morning America where she worked as a production associate. Ashton produced pieces for the broadcast, including the first identified victim of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, as well as multiple entertainment news stories.

Before her time at GMA, Ashton worked as an intern on ABC’s news assignment desk, helping to organize coverage of major news stories like the Trayvon Martin case, the Jerry Sandusky trial and the 2012 Presidential election. She also spent 18 months as a weekend reporter for WDTV based in her hometown of Clarksburg, WV, breaking the story of missing Lewis County toddler Aliayah Lunsford. Ashton’s work from that story was featured on HLN’s Nancy Grace in October of 2011.

Ashton graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in May of 2012, where she was named WVU’s Reporter of the Year. She covered government for the P.I. Reed School of Journalism’s bi-weekly newscast WVU News and also served a semester as the WVPBS bureau reporter.


Ways To Connect

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.

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.

Patriot Coal

On the same day Patriot Coal announced WARN notices had been sent to more than 1,000 Kanawha County miners, the company signed an agreement with West Virginia environmental regulators to ante up $50 million for mine reclamation projects.

The agreement with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection comes in the midst of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings in Richmond.

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.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

A severe decline in the state's severance tax revenues has Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin calling for yet another round of budget cuts for state agencies, as well as other cost saving measures. 

Tomblin announced the cuts through a press release Monday evening. 

The mid-year, across-the-board 4 percent agency cuts combined with a 1 percent decrease in state aid to public schools-- a budget item typically protected from reductions-- will help make up for the projected $250 million deficit expected during the 2016 Fiscal Year.

AP Photo/Jeff Gentner / AP

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

7:10 p.m.

The third day of jury selection wrapped Monday evening just before 5 p.m. in a Charleston federal courtroom. 

According to court documents, 13 jurors were excused from the jury pool. There is no indication in the document how many total jurors were questioned or how many were chosen to remain in the jury pool. 

In a court transcript, Judge Irene Berger said last week she was looking for 35 jurors for the smaller pool from the larger pool of 300 jurors who received questionnaires earlier this year.

From that 35, attorneys from both sides will be able to disqualify a number of jurors without question.  The judge is looking for a jury of 12 with 2-3 alternates.

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
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/Jeff Gentner / AP

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.

Tax Reform Committee Campaign Contributions
Data Source: Institute on Money in State Politics / / Data Visualization by Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

When Republican lawmakers took control of the state Legislature for the first time in some 80 years in 2015, party leaders maintained their legislative priorities wouldn’t change. 

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. 

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Charleston Police Chief Brent Walker.
Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin brought together local first responders, state health officials and substance abuse treatment specialists Tuesday to celebrate the success he sees in his district in combating drug abuse. 

Goodwin said his office intends to continue enforcing federal laws that prohibit the sale of narcotics, but now, he and his colleagues are also focusing on the treatment side, looking at ways to curb the demand for the drugs. 

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

As lawmakers continue to discuss ways to reform the state's tax code, Tuesday's meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform focused on one tax increase that may be palatable for members of the state Legislature, the tobacco tax.

West Virginia last increased its tobacco tax in 2003 to the current 55 cents per pack which, according to the national Tax Foundation, is the 8th lowest in the nation.

Tax Foundation Policy Analyst Jared Walczak told members of the committee while the state does have one of the highest smoking rates in the nation at 23 percent, an increase in the tax is not necessarily a sustainable source of revenue into the future.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Republican Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall has been outspoken on the issue of road funding since his party took over the legislature in January.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A legislative review of the state’s new employee pay schedule found the state will be paying an additional $50 million over the next ten years to salaried employees because of a computing error.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

An audit of the Department of Education’s handling of the state funding formula for public schools says the Department is miscalculating funds and has actually been underpaying some counties for the past six years.

State lawmakers approved a recalculation of the state school aid formula in 2008.

Justice Brent Benjamin at a community forum earlier this year.
Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals candidate has officially announced he will use public campaign financing in his re-election bid.

Justice Brent Benjamin is only the second candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court to use the public campaign finance program put in place by lawmakers in 2010. Justice Allen Loughry was the first to use the funding and won his seat in 2012.