The criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship went into its sixth week. Jurors heard from a financial expert and an FBI special agent. Thanks to the reporting from the federal courthouse by Ken Ward Jr. and Joel Ebert of the Charleston Gazette, I can share some of my favorite quotes from the week.
The prosecution called Frank Torchio, an expert at analyzing changes in stock prices in response to favorable and unfavorable public information. Torchio examined Massey Energy’s financial performance, in particular, following the April 5, 2010 disaster at the company’s Upper Big Branch mine. Ward writes:
“Torchio explained that Massey’s stock price plummeted on April 6 and 7, with the company losing about $900 million in value in just two days. The stock price rebounded somewhat on April 9, when Massey told investors the company does not condone safety violations.
“But then in late April, when National Public Radio reported the existence on an FBI criminal investigation of the mine explosion, Massey shares dropped again, costing about $500 million in value.”
Ward describes how Blankenship’s defense team challenged Torchio’s conclusions, with the financial analyst pushing back.
[They were] “…interrupting each other to the point that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger stepped in, something the judge has seldom had to do in the previous 21 days of testimony of the Blankenship trial.”
The prosecution also called FBI Special Agent Jim Lafferty. Lafferty described some of the thousands of pages of Massey Energy records he analyzed, including MSHA citations issued at the Upper Big Branch mine and the “daily violation reports” sent to Blankenship. Ward writes:
[Lafferty showed] “…jurors how each of the violations was summarized in that day’s daily report to Blankenship. After reviewing eight of these pairs of citations and daily reports, [assistant US attorney Steve] Ruby prefaced his next question with the phrase, ‘We could do this all day.’
“Defense lawyers objected and U.S. District Judge Irene Berger told the jurors to disregard ruby’s remark. Ruby then asked Lafferty how many of the citations from UBB were summarized in the daily violation reports sent to Blankenship. ‘587,’ Lafferty replied.”
“During a hearing Monday evening, defense lawyers objected to admitting the newspaper stories into evidence for the jury to consider, with lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor saying, ‘This comes in the category of you’ve got to be kidding me.’ Taylor objected to the material in the articles being included, nothing for example that a Gazette story was ‘filled with references to Aracoma, the guilty pleas, and quotes from [United Mine Workers President] Cecil Roberts. ‘ Taylor said that the articles were ‘inflammatory’ and would create a danger to the jury’s ability to fairly weigh the evidence in the case.”
Other examples include audio recordings from 2009 and 2010 (taped by Don Blankenship) that his defense team wants the jury to hear, such as:
“DB1302 (June 29, 2009): This recording involves a conversation between Mr. Blankenship and Stanley Suboleski, the member of Massey’s Board of Directors. … Mr. Blankenship asks: “Who else has an S1 manual, a P2 manual, and M3 manual and the tangible things beyond the law that we have?” Mr. Suboleski responds: “I don’t know of anybody that goes as far as we do, Don. You know, the – in the past I would have said the steel companies do better on the S1 type thing. Today I’m not sure that anybody does.” [S1, P2 was a Massey slogan for “safety first, production second”]
“DB0746A (Jan. 7, 2010), DB0746B (Jan. 7, 2010) and DB0687 (Jan. 24, 2010): These recordings involve conversations regarding rock dust citations and orders issued at a Massey mine. Among other things, Mr. Blankenship inquires why additional trickle dusters had not been purchased for the mine and advises that he would have ‘had 20 of these rock dusters for every 500 feet’ in the mine.
“Mr. Blankenship directs Mr. Adkins to advise the resource group president in charge of the mine that Mr. Blankenship wants him to ‘cover it up [with rock dust] like it’s a snowstorm.'”
While Blankeship’s attorneys argued that certain evidence should be presented to the jury, they tried again to exclude other evidence. They continue to try to convince the judge that the testimony of former Massey coal miners be struck from the record. Ward writes:
“Defense lawyer Eric Delinsky asked U.S. District Judge Irene Berger to throw out testimony about events underground at the Upper Big Branch Mine, including the testimony of miners who said they were told to operate the mine unlawfully, that the mine cheated on coal-dust sampling aimed at protecting workers from black lung disease, and that the operation ignored the need to apply crushed limestone, or rock dust, to prevent explosions.
“Delinsky said that none of the witnesses had identified Blankenship as having personally ordered such conduct, and that none of the miner testimony provided evidence that Blankenship was involved in any sort of conspiracy to violate safety rules at Upper Big Branch or to illegally warn underground crews of impending government inspections.
The judge did not make a ruling on the defense attorney’s request.
The trial will move into its seventh week on Monday. It’s likely that the government attorneys will rest their case and Blankenships’ will begin calling their own witnesses. In anticipation of this new phase of the trial, the Charleston Gazette’s Joel Ebert provides a profile of the “high-profile, top dollar” defense team hired by Blankenship.