According to local newspaper the Register-Herald Reporter, the court still needs to rule on whether several of 65-year-old Blankenship’s recorded phone calls will be permitted into evidence in the case.
While Thursday, November 12 was considered to be a turning day for the trial, the report said that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has given the prosecution until Monday, November 16 to review the tapes and present any additional objections before the jury enters the courtroom.
Should the tapes be allowed, Blankenship’s defense team will have the chance to call FBI special agent James Lafferty for a re-cross examination; Lafferty was the prosecution’s final witness, the report said.
Late Thursday, defense attorney Eric Delinsky filed a Rule 29 motion, or motion for acquittal, arguing that the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to convict Blankenship, who is charged with conspiring to violate safety standards and lying to officials following the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine that killed 29.
Prosecution in review
After a silent day for Veteran’s Day on November 11, the trial’s prosecution team called its 27th, and apparently final, witness when Lafferty took the stand. According to West Virginia MetroNews, the federal agent and certified public accountant spent the entire day on the stand Tuesday, November 10, and part of Thursday, November 12.
Some of the other individuals called during the initial phase of the trial include former Blankenship secretary Sandra Davis; former Green Valley Coal Group President David Hughart, who is now serving federal time for his role in the events; Stanley “Goose” Stewart, a former continuous miner operator at the UBB mine; ex-Marfork Coal President Chris Blanchard; and former Massey Chief Administrative Officer John Poma.
Others that have called to testify in the prosecution phase include former UBB section foreman Rick “Smurf” Hutchens and retired Mine Safety and Health Administration staffer Bill Ross, whom Blankenship had hired to help with mining plans and ventilation issues following his 32-year tenure with the federal regulatory agency.
Blankenship faces up to 31 years in federal prison for his actions leading up to and following the UBB blast near Montcoal in southern West Virginia.