- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A questionnaire distributed to potential jurors in the criminal case against former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Donald Blankenship asks whether they know anyone who has been injured or killed in a mine.

Prospective jurors also were asked whether they have formed any opinions about Blankenship, Massey Energy and its coal mining practices, and other criminal cases related to an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010 that killed 29 men.

Blankenship faces charges that he conspired to violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch.

Other questions posed to jurors included whether they, or any close family member, ever worked in the coal industry or in the mine safety field. Jurors also were asked whether they ever were a member of a union.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger’s questionnaire was released on Wednesday by court officials. Berger had ordered a jury pool of 300 southern West Virginians last week. Monday was the deadline for potential jurors to return the questionnaire, online court records show.



Also this week, Blankenship’s lawyers and federal prosecutors continued sparring in motions over what proposed evidence should be admissible at the trial. The disputed evidence includes testimony from David Hughart, a former president of Massey subsidiary White Buck Coal Co., who was sentenced in 2013 to 3½ years in prison on conspiracy charges.

Hughart admitted his role in ensuring that miners at other Massey subsidiaries got illegal advance warning of surprise safety inspections. He also implicated Blankenship in the conspiracy during his plea hearing in 2013.

“None of the proposed testimony by Hughart describes conditions and practices at UBB; it concerns the White Buck mines that Hughart supervised. The White Buck mines are not mentioned in the superseding indictment, and the conditions and practices there are not alleged to be relevant to any charge in the superseding indictment,” Blankenship’s lawyers wrote in one motion.

The prosecution’s Tuesday motion opposed several defense evidence proposals, including telephone conservations recorded by Blankenship.

“The conversations were controlled by him. Defendant had total control over when his conversations were recorded - and when they were not,” the prosecution’s motion stated.

Blankenship’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

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