Jury still has no verdict in ex-coal CEO Blankenship trial

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2015 5:53 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A federal judge told a jury Tuesday to keep trying to reach a verdict in the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, even after jurors said they were deadlocked, and she told them they can return a partial verdict if they agree on a portion of the charges.

At midday, jurors sent U.S. District Judge Irene Berger a note saying they were still deadlocked. The note also asked for any further instructions from Berger. The judge replied that they could return a partial verdict if one could be reached out of the three counts against Blankenship.

They finished a seventh full day of deliberations without a verdict, and will resume their work Wednesday morning.

Berger also reminded jurors to be open-minded, and said those in the minority should consider the majority opinion, and vice versa. She said opinions may be changed in the jury room, and urged jurors to re-examine their views. Her guidance also said it's not within the court's "power or desire" to compel jurors to reach a unanimous verdict.

Defense attorneys objected to the additional instructions, and were again denied when they requested a mistrial because the jury can't agree.

Berger said she thought the jury's note indicated that jurors are "still wanting to make an effort."

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break safety laws at the Upper Big Branch coal mine and defraud mine regulators in the years before an explosion killed 29 men at the mine in southern West Virginia in 2010. He's also accused of lying to financial regulators and investors about company safety.

The case is the centerpiece of a wide-spanning investigation into Massey that began after the explosion. The probe produced four other convictions up the Massey corporate chain, leading to Blankenship's indictment in November 2014. Relatives of the miners who died have long called for Blankenship to go to prison.

Prosecutors contend that Blankenship was a bullish micromanager who knew about and meddled in the smallest details at Upper Big Branch. He pushed for more production and ran shadow safety programs that weren't backed by money for more miners or time for safety tasks, they said.

The defense, which rested without calling any of its own witnesses, said the prosecution had failed to show Blankenship was involved in a conspiracy.

Deliberations began the evening of Nov. 17, but were suspended several days for Thanksgiving. His trial began Oct. 1.