Defence of West Virginia’s former ‘King of Coal’ rests without calling witnesses
The defence of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, the man once known as West Virginia’s ‘King of Coal,’ and that now faces charges of conspiring to break mine safety laws at Upper Big Branch Mine, rested their case Monday without calling any witnesses in the high-profile trial.
The announcement by Blankenship’s lead attorney, Bill Taylor, came shortly after the prosecutors finished weeks of interrogations, AP reports.
Lawyers have been asserting claims that the former CEO put dollars ahead of human safety in the years before the deadly 2010 accident at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, considered the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.
The prosecution contends that while publicly proclaiming safety to be his company’s number one priority, Blankenship repeatedly denied requests to equip his mines with necessary equipment and then lied to federal investigators about it.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), said the tragedy was the result of an accumulation of gas ignited by a spark that came off a piece of shearing equipment, which is used to cut through a long section of wall to get at the coal seam.
But according to the federal government, and to the state’s own independent investigation of the mine after the fact, “virtually everything that could have gone wrong in this situation did go wrong,” writes Tim Murphy, who recently profiled Blankenship in Mother Jones.
The Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel report backs Murphy up, as it says that the explosion was the result of failures of basic safety systems identified and codified to protect the lives of miners.
Blankenship, who insists he is innocent and the victim of government and media excesses, could face up to 30 years in prison.
The Upper Big Branch mine explosion killed 29 men.