This is an update by Joel Ebert, who is covering the Don Blankenship trial with Ken Ward Jr.
During testimony from financial expert Frank Torchio, both the government and defense team for Blankenship used newspaper stories from around the country to bolster their case.
The defense referenced several stories (the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times and the Newark Star-Ledger) published after President Barack Obama’s April 15 announcement in the White House Rose Garden that the U.S. Department of Justice would assist in the mine explosion probe.
The government meanwhile used their own news clippings, including a Charleston Gazette article by Ken Ward Jr. dated April 7, 2010 and another, dated April 12, 2010, from former Daily Mail reporter Ry Rivard.
During a hearing Monday evening, defense lawyers objected to admitting the newspaper stories into evidence for the jury to consider, with lead defense lawyer Bill Taylor saying, “This comes in the category of you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Taylor objected to the material in the articles being included, nothing for example that a Gazette story was “filled with references to Aracoma, the guilty pleas, and quotes from [United Mine Workers President] Cecil Roberts. ” Taylor said that the articles were “inflammatory” and would create a danger to the jury’s ability to fairly weigh the evidence in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby responded that the government wanted to use the newspaper stories because of specific language in the indictment against Blankenship that references media coverage of Massey’s poor safety record, as part of the government’s allegation that Blankenship responded to that coverage by lying to shareholders about the company’s safety practices to stop plummeting stock prices. Ruby suggested that the two sides might reach a stipulation about the media coverage issue, or the government might propose redacted copies of the stories.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger encouraged the parties to come up with a stipulation, but added:
That I will state to you right now that with respect to 461, there’s a lunch pail that has a black, looks like a black ribbon on it. Those types of things I don’t believe are appropriate unless I am not looking correctly, and if I am, you all tell me that those are the types of things that I believe there certainly could be a risk of prejudice.
The court’s daybook from yesterday made it unclear whether the documents were simply being used in the courtroom or whether or not they were submitted for evidence. According to the daybook, the exhibits were addressed but the Court deferred a ruling on their admissibility.
Today, the government posted both stories, as well as an April 7, 2010 New York Times story, on their website where all the other evidence they used in the case is housed. You can check out Ken’s story here and Ry’s story here.