Former Coal CEO Sentenced To Prison For Role In Deadly Coal Mine Explosion

(REUTERS/Chris Tilley)

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The former CEO of West Virginia-based Massey Energy was sentenced Wednesday to prison for safety blunders that eventually led to a coalmine explosion that killed 29 people.

A jury convicted Don Blankenship, who ran Massey Energy from 2000 to 2010, in December for attempting to thwart safety rules culminating in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger also fined Blankenship $250,000 for the misdemeanor charge.

Blankenship said in a statement in the hearing that he is “not guilty of a crime,” and told the families of the coal miners that they were “great guys, great coal miners.”

The court proceedings quickly delved into an emotional occasion, with family members shouting at Blankenship outside the court hall, blaming him for killing their children.

“Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime and those who break those laws will be held accountable,” Carl Castro, the U.S. Attorney in Charleston, told reporters Wednesday.

The lawyers for the former CEO of the country’s sixth largest coal company said they planned on appealing the conviction, adding the explosion was caused by a buildup of methane in the coal mine, not unsafe equipment.

Investigators believe the faulty equipment caused the spark that ignited the gas.

“The defense never contested that Don Blankenship could be blunt and a hard taskmaster,” his lawyers said prior to sentencing, “but the truth is that he cares deeply about his family, his community, and the people who worked for him,” they said in court filings before the sentencing.

Blankenship’s attorneys added that so far nobody has stepped forward and said the former CEO directed them to violate safety regulations

Prosecutors were not buying Blankenship’s attorneys explanation.

“He made a conscious, cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him,” prosecutors said in their pre-sentence filings.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told ABC News in 2014 that believes, “Don has blood on his hands and I believe that justice will be done. I’ve got to believe that.”

“You know, you can’t just take the side of the government. The government’s people too,” Manchin said. “They have their own failings and their own shortcomings. We need to get to the bottom of these safety issues and truly protect coal miners, rather than seeing if we can blacken someone’s reputation and hurt somebody.”(NOW CHECK OUT: Down In The Hole: A Look At The People And Way Of Life Suffering Under Washington’s Plan For Coal)

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