Jurors still without verdict in ex-coal CEO Blankenship case


By Jonathan Mattise - Associated Press



Blankenship


CHARLESTON (AP) — After a third full day of deliberations, a jury recessed Friday without reaching a verdict in the criminal trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Jurors have been trying since Tuesday evening to reach a decision. Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break safety laws at the Upper Big Branch coal mine and defraud mine regulators in the years before an explosion killed 29 men at the mine in southern West Virginia in 2010. He’s also accused of lying to financial regulators and investors about company safety.

The jury will return Monday to continue deliberating.

On Friday, defense attorney William Taylor told U.S. District Judge Irene Berger that because many jurors face a round trip to court of two hours or longer and they want to be sure they are home for Thanksgiving, they would be coerced into reaching a verdict.

Berger denied the motion and said jurors may have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off next week for the Thanksgiving holiday if they have not finished by then.

Jurors also asked the judge about the meaning of two words in a Massey press statement to investors and federal financial regulators that’s included in the second and third counts of the indictment. Berger said she could not provide additional guidance.

Berger also said a member of the press tried to talk to two jurors, but the contact was minimal.

Also on Friday, The Associated Press filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Charleston to make public the names and addresses of the jurors in Blankenship’s trial.

The motion says criminal trial juror names and addresses are part of the public record as soon as the jury is selected. The jury was picked at the trial’s start, Oct. 1.

The information has not yet been disclosed, even though AP and other media have previously requested it. The motion says there’s no constitutionally valid reason to withhold the juror list.

On Thursday, the jurors told Berger they could not agree on a verdict and asked how long they should continue. Berger said that given the lengthy trial and the number of witnesses, they should keep working.

The case is the centerpiece of a wide-spanning investigation into Massey that began after the explosion. The probe produced four other convictions up the Massey corporate chain, leading to Blankenship’s indictment in November 2014. Relatives of the miners who died have long called for Blankenship to go to prison.

Prosecutors contend that Blankenship was a bullish micromanager who knew about and meddled in the smallest details at Upper Big Branch. He pushed for more production and ran shadow safety programs that weren’t backed by money for more miners or time for safety tasks, they said.

The defense, which rested without calling any of its own witnesses, said the prosecution had failed to show Blankenship was involved in a conspiracy.

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By Jonathan Mattise

Associated Press

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