Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Former Coal CEO Don Blankenship


The Supreme Court says it won’t review the conviction of former coal CEO Don Blankenship, who was found guilty of conspiring to violate safety standards at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine before the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men.

The justices said Monday they would not take the case of the former CEO of Massey Energy who spent a year in prison following his conviction stemming from the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years. That leaves in place lower court decisions rejecting his efforts to get his misdemeanor conviction thrown out. As is typical, the high court did not explain its decision and denied the case among a long list of others. Monday is the first day of the court’s new term.

A federal jury in West Virginia convicted Blankenship in 2015 of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards but acquitted him of more serious charges. He was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $250,000.

In 2019, however, a federal magistrate judge recommended that Blankenship’s conviction be thrown out. The judge agreed with Blankenship that his rights were violated because prosecutors didn’t turn over evidence that was favorable to him. That included FBI and Department of Labor interviews with Massey employees. A government review separately found that some material should have been turned over.

A federal district judge, however, ruled that despite the prosecution’s failure to disclose numerous documents, the conduct ”resulted in no prejudice” toward Blankenship. Most of the substance of the documents that was favorable to Blankenship did come out at trial, the judge said. An appeals court also ruled against Blankenship before the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

Investigations into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.