Four months after his conviction and almost six years to the day after the explosion that launched his criminal investigation, ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been sentenced in federal court to one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. Blankenship’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. April 6 in Charleston, West Virginia, and reports of the verdict, which was the maximum penalty for his misdemeanor conspiracy conviction, by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger were made public by noon.
The former executive is the fifth person to be convicted for his role in events leading up to the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine explosion on April 5, 2010, that killed 29 coal miners.
According to the Associated Press, Berger — a coal miner’s daughter — said in the hearing that she had given the sentence great consideration and that, in the end, safety must be paramount. “Instead of being to be able to tout you as a success story, we are here as a result of your part in a dangerous conspiracy,” she said.
Following the sentencing, Blankenship stated that the 29 victims of UBB were “great guys, great coal miners” and again proclaimed his innocence. “It is important to everyone that you know that I'm not guilty of a crime,” Blankenship said.
His legal team said they will appeal the decision; they had contended throughout the process that he should receive, at most, probation and a fine. A motion for his freedom during the appeals process was reportedly denied.
Blankenship was convicted December 3, 2015, with a single count of misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety standards at the southern West Virginia mine. He escaped potential felony charges and, more recently, $28 million in restitution to Alpha Natural Resources to cover his legal fees.