A federal jury in West Virginia has convicted former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship of conspiracy to violate federal mine-safety laws. The jury acquitted him of more onerous counts of lying to regulators and investors in connection with a 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners, the Wall Street Journal reports. The case, which riveted the coal-centric state for nearly two months, sets a precedent for prosecutors to use safety laws to target high-ranking corporate executives. Blankenship, 65, is believed to be the first chief executive of a major U.S. corporation to be convicted of workplace-safety-related charges after a deadly industrial accident. The explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine was the worst U.S. mining accident in four decades.
William Taylor, Blankenship's attorney,vowed an appeal, saying, “This case should never have been brought.” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said it should send a signal to other executives. “The CEO and chairman of one of America's largest coal companies now stands convicted,” Goodwin said. “To go from boardroom to prospective incarceration sends a powerful message to executives who would ignore the safety of their workers.” Prosecutors charged that Blankenship was the driving force behind an often unspoken conspiracy to violate safety laws to keep the coal and profits flowing at the company. They alleged that company officials broke the law by tipping off miners about inspections and falsifying coal dust samples.