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Coal Mine Exec Gets A Year in Prison After Blast Killed 29

Image: Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship and his attorney Bill Taylor are met by media outside the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston West Virginia

Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship, front left, and his attorney Bill Taylor are met by members of the media outside the courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia, on Dec. 3. Blankenship was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of conspiring to violate safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 blast that killed 29 people. CHRIS TILLEY / Reuters

Blankenship’s lawyers have vowed to appeal his conviction. Blankenship has claimed that the explosion was caused by a buildup of natural gas in the mine. But federal investigators found that faulty equipment created a spark that ignited a mixture of coal dust and methane gas in the poorly ventilated mine.

Related:

Massey’s Mine Safety Record Under Scrutiny

The investigators found that broken and clogged water sprinklers failed to put out the resulting fire.

His lawyers had asked the judge to be lenient.

“The defense never contested that Don Blankenship could be blunt and a hard taskmaster, but the truth is that he cares deeply about his family, his community, and the people who worked for him,” they said in court filings before the sentencing.

“Not one witness testified that Mr. Blankenship instructed him to violate safety regulations or otherwise suggested or insinuated that he should violate any of the regulations.”

But prosecutors said he was well aware of the risks he was taking by ignoring mine safety laws, especially those requiring adequate ventilation.

“He made a conscious, cold-blooded decision to gamble with the lives of the men and women who worked for him,” prosecutors said in their pre-sentence filings.

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