Coal Tattoo

Was Blankenship ever inside the UBB mine?

Mine Explosion Congress

With the Don Blankenship criminal trial recessed until 1:30 this afternoon, there’s been time this morning to reflect. And in doing so, I noticed there was a fascinating little bit of testimony yesterday in the criminal trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship. It came when former Upper Big Branch miner Stanley “Goose” Stewart was on the stand and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin asked him if he had ever seen Blankenship at UBB:

Stewart:  Yes, I saw him, he visited the longwall at least once while I was on, when I was on shift. If he came any other time, I may not have been there. I can’t answer that.

Q. Did you see him at the mine property?

A. I saw him on the mine property often. It would have been back ’96, ’97, for union organizing drives, and he was there on a regular basis, having meetings with the miners.

Now remember, back when lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor gave his opening statement in the case, Taylor told jurors this:

You may be interested to know that Don Blankenship was never in the UBB mine.

Goose testifies

Goose Stewart testifies under cross-examination by Blankenship defense lawyer Blair Brown. Illustration by Jeff Pierson.

This came up again during cross-examination of Goose Stewart by defense lawyer Blair Brown:

Q. Okay. Now, you testified on direct that you saw Don Blankenship at UBB, at Upper Big Branch?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And that was in the 1990s; correct?

A. That was in the 1990s during the union organizing drives they had there. And then I recall him being on the face — I can’t remember the year, can’t remember if it was still in the ’90s or early 2000s.

Q. Okay. But it wasn’t in any time between — any time or recently than the early 2000s; correct?

A. Me personally seeing him, that’s correct.

Q. And you — there was a union election going on, or was that what was happening when you saw him in the ’90s there?

A. Yes.

I asked former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hissam, a criminal defense lawyer with Bailey and Glasser who is closely following the trial, about this and here’s what he said:

Jurors can often seize on the smallest nuggets, especially where there is sharply contrasting testimony. While it doesn’t go straight to the charges, the defense told the jury in opening statements that Don Blankenship had never been inside the UBB mine. Jurors heard testimony from “Goose” Stewart yesterday that he had. This is a puzzling discrepancy, and certainly raises the question as to how the defense team will address that issue in closing arguments.