Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship will face three federal charges in connection with the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners. This video explains Blankenship's history and the timeline of events leading up to the beginning of the trial. Read more here:
The following is a timeline of events that led to Thursday’s one-count conviction of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship:
April 10, 2010 — At about 12:30 a.m., then-Gov. Joe Manchin and mine safety officials announce that, after nearly a week of searching, hoping and praying, the bodies of the other four miners
have been found. “We did not receive the miracle we prayed for,” Manchin said in a press conference
. “So this journey has ended and now the healing will start.” By early on the morning of April 13, the bodies of all of the miners had been removed from the mine.
April 13, 2010 — As funerals begin in the Coal River Valley, and investigations are announced in Washington, D.C., and Charleston, Manchin appoints longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer to conduct an independent probe of what happened at Upper Big Branch.
April 15, 2010 — Massey Energy’s board of directors warns against a “rush to judgment
” about the disaster. CEO Don Blankenship had already told local media
that “any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated or illegally operated or anything like that would be unfounded.”
April 25, 2010 — President Obama visits West Virginia to attend a memorial service for the UBB miners. He meets privately with victims’ family members, and says in a eulogy
, “How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work; by simply pursuing the American dream.”
April 26, 2010 — The day after the memorial service, Massey Energy’s board holds a press conference in Charleston to defend Massey’s safety performance
. Board member Stanley Suboleski tells reporters that “there was no evidence of a dangerous condition” prior to the explosion.
Dec. 3, 2010 — Massey announces
that Blankenship will retire as CEO effective Dec. 31. His retirement deal will provide him
with $12 million in cash.
Dec. 8, 2010 — Republicans in the U.S. House block an effort
by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to pass a mine safety reform bill named for Byrd.
Jan. 31, 2011 — Alpha Natural Resources announces
that it is buying Massey Energy.
May 19, 2011 — The Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, led by Davitt McAteer, releases a report
that concludes Massey’s failure to follow basic safety standards — and a corporate culture that put coal production ahead of protecting workers — led to the UBB Disaster.
Jan. 20, 2012 — Alpha Natural Resources reached a deal
to resolve wrongful death claims by the families of the miners who died at UBB.
Feb. 23, 2012 — The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issues its report on the disaster
Oct. 31, 2013 — Alpha Natural Resources announces it is finalizing a $265 million settlement of a lawsuit it inherited that alleged Massey misled shareholders about its safety record prior to the UBB explosion.
Feb. 10, 2014 — Alpha announces that Goodwin’s office has “closed” its monitoring of safety reforms required by the company’s non-prosecution agreement, but Goodwin says
his office’s criminal investigation was continuing.
Nov. 13, 2014 — A federal grand jury meeting in Beckley hands up a four-count indictment
that charges Blankenship
with mine safety and securities crimes.
Nov. 14, 2014 — U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issues a sweeping gag order
that blocks public access
to documents in the Blankenship case and prohibits public discussion of the case by lawyers, parties and victims. The gag order was later overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by various media outlets.
Nov. 20, 2014 — Blankenship is released pending trial after pleading not guilty
and posting $5 million bond. The order releasing him restricts his travel to mostly Southern West Virginia, a mandate that prompts a repeated court fight with prosecutors over his requests to travel
to Las Vegas, where he says he now lives.
May 28, 2015 — A judge in Delaware rules
that Alpha Natural Resources must pay Blankenship’s legal fees, which were estimated as of April 1 at $5.8 million.
June 12, 2015 — Berger delays
Blankenship’s trial until Oct. 1 and moves the proceedings to Charleston.
June 15, 2015 — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejects
Blankenship’s continued effort to have all of the judges in Southern West Virginia disqualified from hearing the case against him. Blankenship alleged that the case was a selective and vindictive prosecution
and part of a plot against him by Democratic political leaders in the state.
Oct 1. 2015 — Jury selection begins
as nearly 90 potential jurors head to the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in downtown Charleston. Media and members of the public are relegated to a separate courtroom where they watch jury selection through a video feed that is frequently inaudible.
Oct. 7, 2015 — The 15-member jury, which includes 11 women and 4 men, is seated. Attorneys for the prosecution and defense deliver opening statements
, following by the government calling its first witness.
Nov. 3, 2015 — Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey in 2011, files a motion
in bankruptcy court to try and shed its obligation to pay for Blankenship’s legal fees, which were estimated at $5.8 million in April 2015.
Nov. 16, 2015 — After 27 witnesses testify over 24 days, the government rests its case. In a surprise move, the defense rests
without calling a single witness.
Nov. 17, 2015 — Three alternate jurors are dismissed as the 12-member jury, which includes eight women and four men, is given instructions from Berger before they begin their deliberations. Attorneys for the government and Blankenship deliver closing arguments
Nov. 19, 2015 — Jurors send a note asking, “How long do we deliberate? We cannot agree.” Berger orders jurors
to continue deliberations.
Dec. 1, 2015 -— The jury sends another note, indicating they remain deadlocked. Berger issues an Allen Charge
, an instruction used to encourage a deadlocked jury to continue deliberating toward a verdict.
Dec. 3, 2015 — After about 50 hours of deliberations over 10 days, the jury finds Blankenship guilty of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards, a misdemeanor for which he could face one year in prison. The jury also returned a verdict
of not guilty on the charges of securities fraud and making false statements in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Blankenship is scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, 2016.