Published on Oct 1, 2015
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: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/blankenship
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The following is a timeline of events that led to Thursday’s one-count conviction of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship:
April 5, 2010 — At 3:02 p.m., an explosion erupts deep inside Massey Energy subsidiary Performance Coal’s Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County. For hours, information about what happened — and about victims or survivors — is sketchy. Not until after 8 p.m. does Massey confirm that at least 7 miners are dead and at least 19 others unaccounted for. Five-and-a-half hours later, Massey issues a statement saying that 25 miners are dead and four more workers still missing.
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.
April 27, 2010 — As the first congressional hearings on UBB are held, MSHA chief Joe Main promises a long list of reforms aimed at preventing future mining disasters.
May 20, 2010 — Blankenship spars with Sen. Robert C. Byrd and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts over Massey’s troubled safety record during a Senate hearing. Byrd died a month later.
May 24, 2010 — Families of UBB miners tell lawmakers at a U.S. House Field Hearing that they had long been worried about safety conditions at the mine.
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.
Dec. 10, 2010 — Blankenship asserts his 5th Amendment rights, refusing to testify in the government’s investigation of the mine disaster. More than a dozen other Massey officials also refused to answer questions from investigators.
Jan. 31, 2011 — Alpha Natural Resources announces that it is buying Massey Energy.
Feb. 28, 2011 — Massey security chief Hughie Elbert Stover is charged with lying to UBB investigators and trying to destroy evidence. After being convicted, Stover is sentenced to three months in prison.
March 22, 2011 — A former Upper Big Branch miner, Thomas Harrah is charged with lying about having a foreman’s license while performing safety checks at the mine between January 2008 and August 2009. Harrah pleaded guilty and spent 10 months in jail.
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.
Oct 25, 2011 — A report by the United Mine Workers union calls the Upper Big Branch deaths “industrial homicide.”
Dec. 6, 2011 — U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announces his office has reached an agreement not to prosecute Alpha Natural Resources for any criminal liability it inherited when it bought Massey. The deal preserves Goodwin’s ability to seek charges against individuals from Massey. The same day, MSHA releases its report on the mine disaster, which finds the deaths were “entirely preventable.”
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. 22, 2012 — Former UBB mine superintendent Gary May is charged with conspiracy to violate mine safety laws and cover up dangerous conditions. May pleads guilty in March and spends 21 months in jail.
Feb. 23, 2012 — The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issues its report on the disaster.
March 6, 2012 — West Virginia lawmakers pass a mine safety bill that was weakened by negotiations with industry lobbyists and focuses on drug testing miners, despite the lack of a link between drug abuse and the UBB explosion.
Nov. 28, 2012 — Prosecutors reveal that a longtime Massey official, David Hughart, is cooperating in their probe and will plead guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to violate mine safety rules.
Feb. 28, 2013 — During a plea hearing in federal court, Hughart alleges that Blankenship was part of the conspiracy to violate mine safety laws. Hughart was sentenced to 42 months in prison. Hughart, who completed a drug treatment program and had his sentenced reduced as a result, is scheduled to be released on Dec. 12, 2015.
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.
March 10, 2015 — A grand jury issues a superseding indictment that combines two of the counts against Blankenship.
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.
www.DavittMcAteer.comDavitt McAteer & Associates
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