It’s been six years and one day since 29 men were killed by a coal-dust explosion at former Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine (UBB). Today, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced the company’s former CEO Don Blankenship for his practices that contributed to the disaster. Berger order him to serve one year in jail and pay a $250,000 penalty.
Early this morning, the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. reported
“…a crowd was already beginning to gather at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston. More than a dozen family members of the Upper Big Branch miners staked out seats when security officers opened the courtroom at about 8:30 a.m. ‘We’ve been waiting for this day,’ said Dr. Judy Jones Peterson, whose brother, Dean Jones, was killed in the blast. ‘It’s been a long time coming.’”
Ward filed a story immediately after the sentence was announced. He noted that Blankenship addressed the court, offered condolences to the families of the UBB miners, but said:
“There was no direct evidence I committed a crime. I am not guilty of a crime.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby who played a lead role in the case told the court:
“If ever a case cried out for the maximum sentence, this is it. Breaking mine safety laws kills people. Breaking mine safety laws kills coal miners. The defendant placed human lives in jeopardy.”
A written statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the southern district of West Virginia says:
“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety. …Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime. …. Putting profits over the safety of workers is reprehensible.”
Thanks to the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. for his excellent reporting on the Blankenship trial and his diligent coverage of many worker safety and health issues.
P.S. There’s no doubt that Blankenship will appeal the sentence along with an appeal of the verdict.
P.P.S. Read the top-notch New York Times op-ed “Judgment Day for Reckless Executives,” by law professor Rena Steinzor.