Ex-Massey coal chief wants testimony excluded from trial

PAM RAMSEY, Associated Press

Coal news: Ex-Massey coal chief wants testimony excluded from trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's lawyers say his compensation and stock holdings and the testimony of a former subordinate are irrelevant to his criminal case and should be excluded from his trial.

Evidence of Blankenship's finances and testimony from David Hughart, a former president of Massey subsidiary White Buck Coal Co., would unfairly prejudice the jury, defense lawyers said in motions filed Tuesday in federal court.

Hughart was sentenced in 2013 to 3½ years in prison on conspiracy charges that grew out of the criminal investigation into the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29 men. He admitted his role in ensuring that miners at other Massey subsidiaries got illegal advance warning of surprise safety inspections. He also implicated Blankenship in the conspiracy during his plea hearing in 2013.

"All of the testimony from Hughart that the government seeks to admit concerns mines other than UBB. The indictment specifically states that Mr. Blankenship is charged with conspiring to willfully violate mine-safety standards and impede MSHA 'at UBB,' not at any other mine," Blankenship's lawyers wrote in one motion.

Another defense motion seeks to exclude previous guilty pleas by White Buck Coal and Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal to violating federal mine safety laws. In all, the defense filed 16 motions seeking to exclude evidence.

Federal prosecutors also are seeking to exclude evidence, including Blankenship's claims that company mines were safe despite what prosecutors say were routine violations of federal safety standards.

"These claims may be convenient excuses, but they are not legal defenses. They are not relevant to the charges against defendant, and they are not admissible at trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Ruby wrote.

Other evidence that prosecutors want excluded includes Blankenship's argument that federal mine safety standards were incorrect or misguided.

"If the only question in this case is whether defendant violated the criminal provisions he is charged with violating, then the answer is not complicated. He did. Mine safety laws were violated at the Upper Big Branch mine ... thousands of times — the same, readily preventable violations, over and over — with his full knowledge and under his close supervision," Ruby wrote.

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