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

Jeff Pierson

In his third day in the witness seat, former Marfork and Performance Coal President Chris Blanchard continued to answer questions about safety priorities at Massey Energy.

Blanchard is testifying in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship who faces charges for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors and securities officials. 

Blanchard's coal group oversaw production at the Upper Big Branch mine. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In this week's episode of "Blankenship on Trial," host Scott Finn discusses the latest witness to take the stand, Performance Coal President and Upper Big Branch mine operator Chris Blanchard, with West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam. 

President Barack Obama
AP Photo/Steve Helber

The nation’s substance abuse epidemic is taking center stage after President Obama announced new federal policies to combat the issue Wednesday. The president announced those changes during a trip to Charleston.

Stanley "Goose" Stewart
Jeff Pierson

Stanley “Goose” Stewart worked as an underground miner for Massey Energy at the Upper Big Branch mine for 15 years and in all of those years, Stewart said production came first, no matter what the conditions were underground.

“There was an element of fear, intimidation and propaganda working there,” Stewart said in Charleston federal court Tuesday. “We knew if we didn’t [produce], we would be fired, or they would harass you until you quit.”

Stewart was called by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to testify in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship. 

West Virginia Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit filed against state education officials by Del. Michael Folk. The suit claimed the implementation of Common Core standards violated both the state and federal Constitutions.

Folk originally filed the lawsuit in Berkeley County Circuit Court where the complaint was dismissed. Folk again filed with the Supreme Court in July, naming the West Virginia Board of Education and state Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano.

Jurors continued to hear testimony Monday from former employees of Massey Energy at the Upper Big Branch mine who claim production was the top priority for the company. The testimony comes in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Former UBB section boss Rick "Smurf" Hutchens testified he often took time away from coal production, directing his men to perform safety related tasks like clearing loose coal or spreading rock dust on the roof, walls and floor of the mine. 

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

After a legislative audit showed a new pay system would cost the state tens of millions of dollars in unintentional pay raises, West Virginia lawmakers are assessing what -- if anything -- they can do to stop it. 

Last month, Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred told members of the Post Audits Subcommittee the transition from semi-monthly to bi-weekly pay under the new West Virginia OASIS system will result in more than $50 million in additional pay for salaried employees over the next ten years.

The unintentional increase is the result of a computing error, dividing salaries by the new 26 pay period rather than the previous 24. Legislative Auditor Allred is now telling lawmakers he believes the conversion rate is illegal.

The trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is grabbing headlines across coal country. Blankenship presided over Massey Energy when a mine explosion killed 29 men in West Virginia in 2010. Blankenship isn’t on trial for their deaths, but regulators are going after him for a variety of industry violations. Earlier this week, the Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple chatted with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Ashton Marra, who’s been covering the trial in Charleston.

Joel Ebert / Charleston Gazette-Mail

In this week's episode of the podcast "Blankenship on Trial," host Scott Finn discusses the first major witness to take the stand- former Massey Energy executive David Hughart- with reporter Ashton Marra and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam.

Jeff Pierson

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

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. 

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

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.