Safety and OSHA News

Appeals court upholds prison sentence for CEO in connection with 29 miner deaths

It looks like former Massey Energy Corp. CEO Don Blankenship will serve out the rest of his prison sentence now that an appeals court has rejected his arguments to overturn his conviction in connection with the deaths of 29 miners. 

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit says it found no reversible error in Blankenship’s 2015 conviction.

The former coal company boss was sentenced to a year in prison, the maximum term, and fined $250,000.

A West Virginia jury convicted the former coal company CEO of one misdemeanor count of conspiring to violate federal mine safety regulations. He was acquitted of making false statements and of securities fraud.

If he’d been convicted on all counts, the maximum penalty would have been 31 years in prison, an almost certain life sentence given Blankenship’s age (65 at the time).

An explosion in March 2010 ripped through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, causing the workers’ deaths. Flammable gases, including methane and coal dust, had been allowed to accumulate in the mine.

In his appeal, Blankenship argued the lower court had erred when it instructed the jury that willfully violating safety rules can include behavior that is merely reckless.

The appeals court found the instruction was consistent with the intent of the Mine Safety Act.

Blankenship is expected to remain in prison until May.

Over the years, Massey Energy had accumulated thousands of safety citations at its mines.

Prosecutors said Blankenship was a micro-manager who kept track of his mines by requiring reports every half hour, a practice that made it easier for the government to makes its case against the former CEO.

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