Former Massey boss seeks delay in criminal trial

December 17, 2014

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship requested a year-long delay in his criminal trial. Blankenship oversaw Massey Energy when an explosion at its Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners. Blankenship is facing charges of conspiring to violate health and safety standards and faces up to 31 years in prison.

Blankenship’s attorney said at a hearing that his client couldn't get a fair trial in southern West Virginia because of bad publicity, The Associated Press reported.

Also, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger heard news organizations, including The Associated Press, argue against a gag order in the case.
The gag order prohibits parties or victims from discussing the case with reporters or releasing court documents, though victims' families have spoken to the media anyway. It also seals court filings from public view.

The Associated Press, The Charleston Gazette, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting want the order dropped or modified.

The only action Berger took Wednesday was to move some motion deadlines back, without specifying the new due dates. The trial date is set for Jan. 26.

Blankenship's attorney William Taylor said he hasn’t filed for a venue change yet, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby said he is confident a fair jury could be found in southern West Virginia.

Blankenship also faces charges lying to federal financial regulators about safety measures in the deadly blast. Blankenship pleaded not guilty and was released on a $5 million bond.

Blankenship’s attorneys also contended that the upcoming trial date would be impossible, saying they need to take polls, interview people, pull years of newspaper coverage and do other research.

Federal prosecutors disagreed, saying that only a short delay, if any, would be warranted.



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