Ashton Marra Published

Blankenship Maintains Innocence as Jury Selection Begins

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.

Blankenship pulled up in front of the courthouse just after 8:30 Thursday morning. After exiting the back seat of a blue minivan, he was escorted by three Department of Homeland Security police officers and his attorneys.

He refused to answer questions from reporters with the exception of one. When asked if he still maintained his innocence going into the case, he simply responded “yes” and smiled for local TV cameras. The 65-year-old Blankenship faces three decades in prison if convicted.

Thursday brings the first phase in the case — jury selection. Three hundred potential jurors received a survey earlier this year asking about their careers, family history and any involvement or connection they may have to the mining industry. The responses to those questionnaires have not been made public by the court.

Don Blankenship

Credit Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jurors were questioned by Judge Irene Berger in small groups in open court Thursday morning. Any potential juror with a perceived conflict was pulled aside and questioned individually by the judge, with both prosecutors and Blankenship’s attorneys listening. 

According to U.S. Marshals Service Chief Deputy Tim Goode, the courtroom was too small for members of the media to sit in on the questioning. Media, family members of those killed in the Upper Big Branch mine and others were placed in a separate courtroom where they could watch a video stream of the questioning on three television monitors.