Prosecutor says jury questions productive in ex-Massey CEO mine blast trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2015 4:18 PM

By Kara Van Pelt

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Reuters) - Jurors' questions in the federal trial of a former coal company executive charged in a deadly 2010 West Virginia mine blast show that the jury's lengthening deliberations are still productive, a prosecutor said on Friday.

Jurors have gone into a third day of deliberations in the trial of former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship. He faces charges in U.S. District Court over an explosion at the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 people, the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

Judge Irene Berger on Thursday rejected a statement from the jury that it could not reach a decision and told it to keep trying. The panel on Friday asked for legal clarification of the words "strive" and "condone" that Massey had used in a news release after the blast on meeting federal safety rules.

The jury's question was an "indication that deliberations of some productive value are continuing," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said.

Berger said that no legal definitions could be provided for the words and that the jury would have to work from its own understanding of them.

Blankenship faces three felony counts over allegations that he ignored hundreds of safety breaches at the mine. His defense team rested on Monday without calling any witnesses.

Berger rejected a defense request for a mistrial on the grounds that the jury was facing coercion because of the distance some members had to travel and possible disruption to Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday.

Berger said jurors could be given from Wednesday to Friday off next week because of the holiday. The court will provide a schedule when it recesses on Friday, she said.

If convicted on all charges, Blankenship faces up to three decades in prison. Massey Energy was bought in 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources Inc for about $7 billion.

(Editing by David Gregorio)