Coal Tattoo

Goodwin: Blankenship led an ‘outlaw’ mine at UBB

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told jurors this morning that former Massey CEO Don Blankenship operated Massey’s Upper Big Branch as “an outlaw” mine that deliberately violated safety laws to run coal.

“The defendant, Donald L. Blankenship, ran a massive, massive criminal conspiracy,” Goodwin said, pointing across the courtroom to where Blankenship sat at the defense counsel table.

Goodwin began his opening statement after jurors heard more than an hour of legal instructions from U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.

Goodwin showed jurors slides with quotes from the now-famous memo outlining the safety concerns raised by former Massey official Bill Ross.

And, in explaining to the jury that the conspiracy Blankenship is charged with, Goodwin reminded jurors that the agreement to conspire did not have to be spoken. Goodwin said Blankenship did not have to be aware of every act committed to further the conspiracy. He compared that to a drug kingpin not needing to know the details of every street corner deal.

“He was the kingpin,” Goodwin said, pointing at Blankenship again.

Goodwin showed jurors photographs of the many former UBB miners who testified at the trial about terrible working conditions at the Raleigh County mine. Goodwin also played again for jurors recordings of Blankenship’s phone calls. Goodwin reminded jurors, for example, that defense lawyers have tried to blame safety problems on federal mine safety and health administration inspectors, but Blankenship himself said in one phone call that if it were not for MSHA, “we’d blow ourselves up.”

Joel Ebert adds: As of 10:45 a.m., Goodwin was still making his opening statements in front of a gallery with 64 people watching. Both the defense and the prosecution have been given two hours to complete their closing arguments. An overflow room has been opened where closing arguments are being televised for those who wish to watch.