RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship must serve the rest of his one-year term in federal prison.
A federal appeals panel on Jan. 19 issued a ruling upholding Blankenship’s conviction from U.S. District Court in 2015. Blankenship, who was sentenced to a year in prison on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge for the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners, reported to Taft Federal Prison in California on May 12, 2016.
“We affirm the District Court’s judgment,” the ruling states. It was written by Judge James A. Wynn Jr. Senior Judge Andre M. Davis and Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory also signed the ruling. “After careful review, we conclude the district court committed no reversible error.
“The Mine Safety Act declares that ‘operators’ — like Defendant — have the primary responsibility to prevent unsafe and unhealthful conditions and practices at mines. … Because mine operators have ‘primary’ responsibility for safety and regulatory compliance and because an operator act with reckless disregard if he ‘closes his eyes’ to safety compliance or ‘should have known’ that an action or omission would lead to a safety violation, a mine operator cannot avoid liability … by failing to engage in close oversight over safety and regulatory compliance.”
In October, the three-judge panel heard the appeal from Blankenship’s attorneys who sought to have his conviction overturned. They argued that jurors were wrongly instructed about the meaning of “willful disregard” during his trial that followed the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. His attorneys have argued that District Judge Irene Berger’s jury instructions did not properly define and weigh the presumption of innocence.
A federal jury convicted Blankenship of the one misdemeanor count, while acquitting him on felony charges of securities fraud and making false statements. He is scheduled for release on May 10.
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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit