A former coal mine executive was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for his involvement in an explosion that killed 29 workers at a mine in the eastern U.S. state of West Virginia in 2010.
Don Blankenship, 66, former chief executive of Massey Energy, was charged with conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards. He was found guilty by a jury on December 3. On Wednesday, a U.S. district judge sentenced Blankenship to the maximum prison time and maximum fine for his crime.
The explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was said by prosecutors to have been the result of worn and broken cutting equipment that created a spark, igniting coal dust and methane gas. Blankenship denies the allegations, saying he believes natural gas in the mines caused the explosion.
“It is important to everyone that you know that I’m not guilty of a crime,” he said.
Blankenship will not be required to pay restitution to former miners and their family members. He also will not have to pay $28 million in restitution to Alpha Natural Resources, the company that bought Massey Energy in 2011.
Blankenship’s trial and conviction is a part of a five-year investigation of the 2010 explosion that has resulted in five criminal convictions up the corporate chain of Massey. The trial was moved from Beckley, a town near the site of the explosion, at the request of the former CEO’s lawyers, citing intense pre-trial publicity.
“We buried our kid because of you,” Robert Atkins, father of a victim, said outside the courthouse alongside other family members of the deceased miners.
The judge denied a motion by Blankenship's attorney that he should remain free pending appeal.