Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted Thursday of a misdemeanor count connected to a deadly coal mine explosion and acquitted of more serious charges. A federal jury in West Virginia convicted Blankenship of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. The misdemeanor charge carries up to one year in prison. Jurors did not find Blankenship guilty of a more serious conspiracy charge included in the same count that could have netted five years in prison. He was also acquitted of making false statements and securities fraud. He was charged with conspiring to break safety laws and defrauding mine regulators at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine, as well as lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. The mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.
At a news conference following the verdict, US Attorney Booth Goodwin called it a "landmark day for the safety of coal miners," adding that it's the first time he's aware of a chief executive of a major corporation being convicted of a workplace safety crime. He said he wasn't disappointed that Blankenship wasn't convicted on the stiffer charges. Judy Jones Petersen, whose brother Dean Jones died in the Upper Big Branch explosion, said she felt vindicated by the verdict and directed a scathing comment at Blankenship: "Although you may not be judged responsible by the courts of this land, you are guilty. The blood of these 29 people is on your hands." Asked for a comment after the trial, Blankenship just winked. "Just a wink. A wink and a nod," he said, citing a phrase used by the defense to address the conspiracy charge.