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. 

  

Donald Trump
Darron Cummings / Associated Press

What were the top stories in West Virginia from 2016? We searched our archives from the past year and compiled this list of the most popular stories.

Blankenship
Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship received the maximum sentence for his misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws. His sentence- one year in prison and a $250,000 fine- was the maximum that could be order by a federal judge.

In this episode of Blankenship on Trial, host Scott Finn discuss what it was like both inside and outside the courtroom Wednesday with Ashton Marra, West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Assistant News Director, and Mike Hissam, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and partner at the Charleston law firm Bailey & Glasser.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A judge has reduced ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's bond and dropped his travel restrictions after his conviction.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clarke VanDervort in Beckley reduced Blankenship's $5 million bond to $1 million Monday.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Some 24 hours after a verdict was handed down in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he is not disappointed in the outcome. In fact, he's calling the conviction on one misdemeanor count a victory.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jurors returned a split verdict Thursday in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship finding him guilty on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws. 

In the final episode of the podcast "Blankenship on Trial," host Scott Finn discusses the verdict, its implications and what comes next with West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra and Charleston attorney and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Editor's Note: This is a developing story. Be sure to keep refreshing this post for the latest. For more, follow @wvpublicnews on Twitter. For more on the verdict, see this post. For other reactions from government and mining industry officials, click here.

Blankenship Trial
Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jurors have found former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a year of jail time. Deliberations lasted about 10 days.

Associated Press

Editor's Note: This is a developing story. Be sure to keep refreshing this post for the latest. For more, follow @wvpublicnews on Twitter. For more on the verdict, see this post. 

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jurors have begun deliberations in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Ashton Marra and Charleston attorney Mike Hissam detail the closing arguments in the case with host Beth Vorhees in this special episode of the podcast recorded as a part of West Virginia Public Broadcasting's morning news show, West Virginia Morning.

Jeff Pierson

Lead defense attorney Bill Taylor said the government has provided no solid evidence to back its claim that former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship conspired to violate federal mine safety laws and lied about his company's safety records to investors and securities officials.

"Paper is what the government has brought you," Taylor said in the first half of his closing argument Tuesday morning. "No witnesses, no proof."

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

As jurors begin to deliberate a verdict in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, all eyes in West Virginia turn to Charleston.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In his closing argument Tuesday morning, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin called former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship an "outlaw" who ran a massive criminal conspiracy at the company's Upper Big Branch mine. 

An April 2010 explosion at that mine killed 29 men and sparked a federal investigation into Massey and Blankenship himself. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Defense attorneys chose to rest their case Monday morning without calling a single witness to aid in their defense of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

In a special edition of the podcast "Blankenship on Trial," host Scott Finn discusses the surprising turn of events with reporter Ashton Marra and Charleston attorney Mike Hissam. 

Don Blankenship
Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

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.

AP Photo

A federal judge has granted Don Blankenship’s attorneys weekend access to recording devices that contain the tapes of phone conversations the former CEO made during his time at Massey Energy after arguing authentication issues Friday.

Blankenship’s team attempted to bring select portions of calls in as evidence under FBI Special Agent Jim Lafferty, a government witness who led the investigation into Massey after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in 2010.

Don Blankenship
Joel Ebert / The Charleston Gazette-Mail

After 31 days of presenting witness testimony and hundreds of pieces of evidence, the U.S. Attorney's Office was set to rest its case Thursday against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. That was, until a motion from the defense to allow them to use a government witness to bring in more evidence threw the prosecution, once again, off course. 

In this week's podcast, host Scott Finn discusses that motion with West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam as well as the government's arguments surrounding a 2010 Massey Securities Exchange Commission filing and defense motions for acquittal.

Don Blankenship
Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The U.S. Attorney's Office has called its final witness in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. FBI Special Agent Jim Lafferty took the stand Tuesday morning. 

The government guided Lafferty through a number of documents he testified he'd reviewed during the course of his investigation, including a number of daily violation reports, filings with the federal Securities Exchange Commission and examination books kept by miners at the Upper Big Branch mine. 

Blankenship Trial
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

A former high-ranking Massey Energy official has taken the stand in the trial of former company CEO Don Blankenship.

John Poma was vice president and chief administrative officer at Massey Energy when the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia exploded in April 2010, killing 29 men.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The sixth full week of the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been almost exclusively focused on Bill Ross, a key witness for the prosecution.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jurors heard emotional testimony from former Massey Energy safety official Bill Ross who broke down on the stand Wednesday morning as he discussed his 2009 recommendations to improve safety at the mining company.

Ross began his second day of testimony Wednesday in the trial of ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A 32-year Mine Safety and Health Administration official turned Massey Energy mine planning and safety specialist testified the company had a reputation of defiance when it came to following mine safety regulations. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A federal judge has denied a motion made by defense attorneys Friday to again question a government witness in the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Blankenship's lead attorney, Bill Taylor, made the motion to re-cross examine former Performance Coal President and Upper Big Branch mine operator Chris Blanchard after he said extensive new evidence was entered by the prosecution during his redirect. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The prosecution wrapped their redirect examination of former Performance Coal President and Upper Big Branch mine operator Chris Blanchard late Friday afternoon, but the unconventional witness may not be done on the stand just yet. Defense attorneys Friday moved to “take another crack” at Blanchard.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After a week on the stand and nearly five days of cross examination by the defense, prosecutors are attempting to save their case set off track by former Performance Coal President Chris Blanchard. In this week's episode of the podcast "Blankenship on Trial," host Dave Mistich discusses Blanchard's testimony with West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra and Charleston attorney Mike Hissam. 

Jeff Pierson

As defense attorneys continued their fourth day of cross examining a government witness, a federal judge has once again ruled to exclude defense presented evidence from the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship. 

Blankenship's lead attorney, Bill Taylor ad attempted to enter videos of a 2009 Massey safety meeting as evidence in his cross examination of former Performance Coal President and Upper Big Branch mine operator Chris Blanchard. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

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