Judge begins jury selection process for Blankenship trial

A federal judge on Thursday issued an order that begins the process for eventually selecting a jury for the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger ordered that a pool of 300 people from the Charleston and Huntington divisions of the federal court’s Southern West Virginia district be randomly selected for potential jury service in Blankenship’s case.

The two-page order said that the court clerk shall issue a summons and jury questionnaire with instructions for those 300 people to complete the questionnaire by Aug. 31. The jury questionnaire was not made public with the court’s order.

Later, the judge said, instructions will be provided for questioning of individual jurors, known as “voir dire,” to ensure they can fairly decide the case.

Berger had previously moved the trial from Beckley to Charleston, denying a request from Blankenship that the trial be held outside of West Virginia because of concerns about whether Blankenship can get a fair trial in communities closest to the location of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Blankenship faces 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.

Trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 1.

The federal court’s Charleston division includes Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Nicholas, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties. The Huntington division includes Cabell, Mason, Putnam and Wayne counties.

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

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