Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder—was convicted today of a federal charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards.
The verdict reached by a federal jury here made Mr. Blankenship, 65, the most prominent American coal executive ever to be convicted of a charge connected to the deaths of miners. He had been accused of conspiring to violate mine safety regulations, as well as of deceiving investors and regulators; prosecutors secured a conviction on only one of the three charges. Mr. Blankenship was acquitted of making false statements and securities fraud. He faces a maximum of one year in prison on the misdemeanor conspiracy charge.
But the verdict was, by most measures, a defeat for the Justice Department, which had pursued a prosecution that could have led to a 30-year prison term.
And a defeat, I would add, for the families of the 29 miners who were killed.