Ex-coal boss pleads not guilty again in mine safety case

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on Tuesday entered another plea of not guilty to federal charges stemming from the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

Blankenship entered his plea at an arraignment hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke Vandervort in Beckley. The hearing came after a grand jury handed up a new, superseding indictment earlier this month.

Vandervort said the former coal boss' trial is still slated for April 20, with a host of motions to dismiss the case by Blankenship still hanging in the balance.

Blankenship's attorneys have also sought to move the case out of southern West Virginia, where they don't think he can draw a fair jury. His attorneys also want all judges in southern West Virginia disqualified from hearing the case.

Federal prosecutors have opposed both requests.

Judge Irene Berger has yet to rule on the various motions, Vandervort said.

Prosecutors have drafted multiple questions to ask prospective southern West Virginia jurors for the case, but the judge hasn't made any decision on those suggestions, either.

Blankenship pleaded not guilty to similar charges during his first arraignment in November. He was released on a $5 million bond.

He is charged with conspiring to violate safety standards, falsifying coal dust samples and defrauding federal financial regulators related to Upper Big Branch Mine. A blast at the southern West Virginia mine killed 29 men in 2010.

Blankenship could face up to three decades in prison, if convicted.

After the hearing, a security guard made sure that Blankenship and relatives of the deceased miners did not get on the same courthouse elevator.