Ex-coal CEO’s jury offers few clues about its disagreements


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Jurors in West Virginia will return Thursday to continue deliberating in the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, having told the judge more than once that they feel deadlocked, but having revealed little about where they disagree or how they’re leaning.

Jurors sent U.S. District Judge Irene Berger a note Wednesday afternoon saying one juror was ill, and she dismissed them for the day a few hours early. It would have been their eighth full day of deliberations.

On Tuesday, jurors told Berger they were deadlocked and asked for any further instructions. Berger replied that they could return a partial verdict if one could be reached out of the three counts against Blankenship.

The former executive is charged with conspiring to break safety laws at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in southern West Virginia and to defraud mine regulators in the years before an explosion killed 29 men there in 2010. He’s also accused of lying to financial regulators and investors about company safety.

Berger reminded jurors Tuesday to be open-minded, and said those in the minority should consider the majority opinion, and vice versa. She said opinions may be changed in the jury room, and urged jurors to re-examine their views. She also said it’s not within the court’s “power or desire” to compel jurors to reach a unanimous verdict.

Defense attorneys objected to the additional instructions, and were again denied when they requested a mistrial because the jury can’t agree.

Berger said she thought the jury’s note indicated that jurors are “still wanting to make an effort.”

They had sent a similar note on Nov. 19, their second full day of deliberations, saying they were deadlocked. Berger told them at the time that, given the length of the trial and the number of witnesses, they must continue trying to reach a verdict.

The jury offered a faint clue on Nov. 20 about one possible point of disagreement. Jurors asked Berger 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.

The company’s press statement said, “We do not condone any violation of MSHA regulations,” and “We strive to be in compliance with all regulations at all times.” The words the jurors asked about were “condone” and “strive.”

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.

Deliberations started the evening of Nov. 17, but were suspended several days for Thanksgiving. His trial began Oct. 1.

comments powered by Disqus