Coal Tattoo

Blankenship prosecutors set to call last witness

Blankenship Nov 9

Photo by Joel Ebert

It seems like a long time since Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said on Oct. 21 that they might wrap up their case early the following week in the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

So Ruby was pretty up front about it when U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asked him this evening for another estimate.  Ruby and Judge Berger agreed his track record on such predictions wasn’t very good.

But it does seem as if the prosecution is wrapping up. Tomorrow morning, they are expected to call their last witness, lead FBI Special Agent Jim Lafferty, to the stand. Ruby said the direct examination of Lafferty should be completed by late morning or early afternoon — then, of course, the defense will get to cross-examine the agent.

Defense lawyers could be starting their case as early as Thursday — depending on exactly how Judge Berger handles the defense motion for a judgment of acquittal that lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor is expected to make before opening his case.

Aside from today’s courtroom action (see the updates here, here and here), there were some new court filings today:

— Prosecutors filed a response to Blankenship’s latest effort to have jurors be able to see a video of what defense lawyers have touted as a major safety program kickoff meeting in August 2009. They continued to argue against allowing the video, which Berger has ruled out of the case at least twice.

— The government also filed a response to the defense’s motion that Berger strike from the trial evidence a comparison of Massey’s safety violations to those received by other major coal producers.

— Defense lawyers, meanwhile, filed a “proffer” to explain to the court testimony that they believe they would have presented if Berger had allowed them to re-cross examine prosecution witness Bill Ross, a former Massey Energy ventilation expert.

The juror returns tomorrow at 9 a.m.