U.S. District Judge Irene Berger on April 9 agreed to push back the criminal trial of former Massey Energy head Don Blankenship from April 20, to a new start date of July 13.
That delay came due to a request by Blankenship’s attorneys for more time to examine two new witnesses that the U.S. Attorney plans to put on the stand at the trial. This case is being handled in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The U.S. Attorney’s office has secured the indictment of Blankenship over charges that he ran a legally deficient mine safety program, leading to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 that killed 29 miners in southern West Virginia. Blankenship, a staunch Republican, has denied the allegations and claims they are politically motivated.
Blankenship, once one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. coal industry, retired from Massey in late 2010, with Massey then in 2011 being bought by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR). Massey for many years was the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, which includes southern West Virginia.
Judge Berger on April 8 had denied a series of motions by Blankenship’s attorneys, including:
- a motion to disqualify from handling this case every judge in the Southern District of West Virginia, including Berger;
- a motion to dismiss due to “selective and vindictive” prosecution; and
- motions to dismiss various counts of the indictment for various alleged deficiencies.