By Kara Van Pelt
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Reuters) - A federal jury said on Tuesday that it was deadlocked over a former Massey Energy chief executive charged in a mine blast that killed 29 people, but the judge told jurors to keep trying.
The jury has been deliberating for two weeks in the trial of Don Blankenship, the executive who was charged in federal court in West Virginia over an explosion in 2010 at the Upper Big Branch Mine, the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.
The jury sent U.S. Disrict Judge Irene Berger a note saying it was still deadlocked and asked for instructions. Berger then issued an Allen charge, or an order to keep deliberating, which can be used to dislodge jurors from entrenched positions.
Defense lawyers had objected before Berger issued the charge, and the judge turned down their motion for a mistrial. Berger also agreed to prosecutors' request that the jury be instructed that it can return a partial verdict on the charges.
Blankenship faces three felony counts over allegations that he ignored hundreds of safety breaches at the mine. The jury told Berger in its second day of deliberations that it could not reach a verdict, but the judge told it to keep working.
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 Ian Simpson and Grant McCool)