Blankenship seeks to block public statements, other evidence from trial

Defense attorneys for Don Blankenship sought Tuesday to block a wide variety of evidence from being presented at his criminal trial, including the former Massey CEO’s public statements following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, information about the impact on Massey’s financial performance of past mine safety violations, and details about Blankenship’s compensation and stock holdings.

Blankenship’s lawyers also asked that jurors in his trial not be allowed to hear any evidence, testimony or argument about previous guilty pleas by Massey subsidiaries Arcaoma Coal Co. and White Buck Coal to criminal violations of federal mine safety laws.

Defense attorneys argue that the evidence they seek to block is either irrelevant to the case, is unfairly prejudicial, or otherwise violates rules for what can be considered by jurors who will decide the case.

For example, Blankenship’s lawyers argue that any evidence about his salary or stock holdings is both irrelevant to the charges against him or would unduly prejudice jurors against him.

“Compensation packages and stock holdings are not probative of guilt,” defense lawyers argued. “In addition, evidence of Mr. Blankenship’s finances would unfairly prejudice him, because it would encourage the jury to make an improper decision out of resentment for his wealth and, even worse, on a view -- encouraged by the superseding indictment -- that he should have used some of his personal compensation to address safety.”

The motions were among more than 15 filed by Blankenship’s defense team on the deadline for the submission to U.S. District Judge Irene Berger of “motions in limine,” or motions made before the start of a trial to prevent certain material from being presented as evidence.

Blankenship faces an Oct. 1 trial date on charges that he conspired to violate mine safety standards before the mine disaster and, after the explosion, lied to securities regulators and investors about Massey safety policies in an effort to stop stock prices from plummeting amid widespread media reports about problems at the company’s mines.

While the indictment does not specifically allege that Blankenship was responsible for the Upper Big Branch Disaster, it does focus on events at that mine. The indictment outlines repeated violations at the UBB mine of federal safety rules meant to prevent mine explosions, such as those mandating proper ventilation and control of highly explosive coal dust.

Already, Blankenship has sought to block jurors from hearing evidence about the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch.

The pretrial motions come as there is still no word from either side or from the judge about a mysterious court Aug. 3 court filing in which Blankenship’s lawyers sought to block a subpoena for an unidentified witness to appear before a new federal grand jury. That court filing is no longer available on the U.S. District Court website, which now lists the case number — a separate number from Blankenship’s pending criminal case — for a matter originally called “In Re: Grand Jury Subpoenas” as, “Sealed v. Sealed,” and adds, “This case is SEALED.”

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s staff were expected to file their own motions concerning evidence for the trial before a deadline late Tuesday night for such submissions.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

Funerals for Monday, January 27, 2020

Davis, Valerie - 11 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Hamrick, Leonard - 1 p.m., Waters Funeral Chapel, Summersville.

Hughes Jr., Denver - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Keen, Cora - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Lazear, Elizabeth - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Masters, Delores - 1 p.m., Glen Ferris Apostolic Church, Glen Ferris.

Milroy, Miller - 11 a.m., Simons-Coleman Funeral Home, Richwood.

Petro, Edith - 11 a.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Phelps, Herbert - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Stanley, Gary - 1 p.m., Pryor Funeral Home, East Bank.

Stewart, Donna - 1 p.m., First United Methodist Church, South Charleston.

Walker, Iva - 1 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Wilkinson, Catharine - Noon, Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor Chapel.

Williams, Joseph - 3 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.