U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Donald L. Blankenship on Wednesday to a year in prison on his misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety in the wake of a 2010 blast that killed 29 workers.
When Blankenship was Massey CEO, his big spending to elect a top West Virginia judge led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009 about runaway spending in judicial elections, Caperton v. Massey. The political spending episode became a poster child for judicial reform advocates.
A jury had acquitted Blankenship of multiple felony counts. He was also fined $250,000. “My main point is wanting to express sorrow to the families and everyone for what happened,” Blankenship said in court. He added later, according to The New York Times, “I am not guilty of a crime.” His prison term was the maximum sentence possible on the misdemeanor count.
The Times depicted the latest chapters of Blankenship’s story as historic: “It was virtually unthinkable not long ago that Mr. Blankenship, whose company was central to West Virginia’s coal industry, would ever stand before a judge for sentencing in this state. When a federal jury convicted Mr. Blankenship of a misdemeanor charge in December, the United States attorney said it was the first time such a high-ranking corporate executive had been found guilty of a workplace safety crime.”
Judge Berger is a coal miner’s daughter, according to The Times.