CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Attorneys for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship want evidence about the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine kept out of his criminal trial this fall.
Media reports say the attorneys filed a motion late Friday asking a federal judge to instruct jurors that the trial does not concern the explosion that killed 29 miners, its cause or who was responsible.
Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety standards at the mine from January 2008 until April 2010, when the explosion tore through the tunnels. The indictment does not specifically allege Blankenship was responsible for the blast.
Blankenship’s attorneys said in the filing that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger and federal prosecutors have both recognized that “the tragedy at Upper Big Branch weighs heavily on this community and in this case.”
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has let the indictment speak for itself.
Four investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed the flare-up to become an inferno.
Blankenship has said the presence of natural gas in the mine, and not methane gas and excess coal dust, was at the root of the explosion.
Any evidence from the government about the explosion’s cause “would be met by strong evidence from Mr. Blankenship rebutting the government’s theories, leading to confusion about the actual sues and to undue delay — a satellite mini-trial about the cause of the UBB explosion and who is responsible for it,” Blankenship’s attorneys said.
“If the cause of the explosion is at issue in the trial, the defense is ready to present substantial, compelling evidence that the incident was actually a natural disaster.”
The trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 1 in Charleston.
Blankenship’s lawyers said potential jurors will be familiar with the explosion.
“It is therefore a certainty that, without strong action by the court, the jury will consider the explosion, the loss of life that resulted, and the victims and their families in determining whether to convict Mr. Blankenship,” Blankenship’s attorneys said. Any evidence “regarding any of those subjects will result in extreme prejudice to Mr. Blankenship and that prejudice will be completely unwarranted.”