Ex-prosecutor: Ex-coal chief will serve full year in prison

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Ex-coal company chief Don Blankenship should have to serve his full, one-year sentence in a minimum-security federal prison because time off for good behavior only applies to terms of more than a year, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blankenship said Thursday.

Blankenship was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum penalties of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for a misdemeanor of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine, which exploded in 2010, killing 29 men. It was the deadliest U.S. mining disaster in four decades.

On Thursday, Blankenship filed a court document to begin appealing the case.

Former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Thursday he expects the ex-Massey Energy CEO to serve the full year.

"That's why you often see people sentenced to a year and a day," Goodwin said.

Blankenship's top-dollar defense team has vowed to appeal his conviction, but there are critical timing issues to juggle.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger declined to let Blankenship stay free on a $1 million bond while he appeals. Blankenship's attorneys are also appealing that ruling and want a decision before a date is set for the former coal baron to report to prison. So far, that date hasn't been set.

Blankenship's attorneys worried that he could serve up to his entire sentence by the time the appeals court decides his case.

Goodwin said it generally takes about two months before someone reports.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals process usually takes upward of a year, said Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor.

"Sometimes it takes less and sometimes more — it depends on the panel and how quickly they reach a decision," Garrett said. "Even scheduling the argument can take months."

Goodwin left office after Blankenship's conviction to run for governor.