- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Lawyers for former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship are urging a federal judge to split his criminal trial so a charge alleging a conspiracy to violate mine safety laws would be heard separately from charges of lying to securities regulators and investors.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports (https://bit.ly/1PmN6ED ) the request was made in a federal court filing Tuesday.

Blankenship’s attorneys argue combining mine disaster details and the allegations of conspiring to violate safety rules would imply Blankenship is responsible for the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine and the 29 deaths it caused.

While the indictment doesn’t allege Blankenship was responsible for the explosion, it focuses on events at that time. The indictment outlines repeated federal safety rule violations at the mine meant to prevent mine explosions, such as those mandating proper ventilation and control of highly explosive coal dust.

“The suggestion that Mr. Blankenship is responsible for 29 miners’ deaths would create a serious risk that the jury could not make a reliable judgment about Mr. Blankenship’s guilt or innocence” with respect to the mine safety conspiracy charge, Blankenship lawyer Eric Delinsky said in the filing.

Prosecutors have not yet responded to the motion.

The move by Blankenship’s lawyers comes as prosecutors and defense attorneys await a ruling on whether any evidence about the explosion would be allowed as evidence in the trial, which is scheduled to start on Oct. 1 in Charleston.

Defense lawyers argue that evidence about the mine disaster is irrelevant to the case and would be unfairly prejudicial to Blankenship. Prosecutors say that some evidence of the disaster is necessary to explain its allegations that after the mine disaster Blankenship directed the issuance of false statements about Massey safety policies in an effort to stop stock prices from plummeting amid widespread media reports “that lawlessness caused the explosion.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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