LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal jury has cleared 4 former coal firm officials who have been accused of skirting mud guidelines in two underground Kentucky mines.
The jury in U.S. District Courtroom in Louisville deliberated Wednesday for about two hours earlier than returning not responsible verdicts. The trial was a uncommon try to prosecute coal firm officials on legal prices.
Federal prosecutors had alleged that the boys ordered subordinates to tamper with mud assortment tools at two Armstrong Coal mines in order to remain in compliance with federal laws.
However protection attorneys stated prosecutors lacked proof that the boys had taken half in a conspiracy to cheat the foundations.
Kent Wicker, a Louisville legal professional, stated there “was never a scrap of evidence” that his shopper, Glendal “Buddy” Hardison, was responsible.
“We were gratified the jury understood,” Wicker stated.
Hardison, the best rating firm official of the 4, was in cost of all of Armstrong’s western Kentucky mines. The coal firm went bankrupt in 2017.
Jason Grover, a trial litigator with the U.S. Mine Security and Well being Administration, declined to remark after the decision Wednesday afternoon.
Eight individuals have been initially charged in the case in 2018 and Hardison was added to the case in 2019. 5 reached plea agreements with prosecutors to keep away from felony prices.
Attorneys for the 4 males argued all through the trial that the boys took no half in rigging mud pumps and did not explicitly order anybody to interrupt the foundations.
“In this case I knew my client was not guilty,” stated Marc S. Murphy, an legal professional for Charley Barber, a former superintendent at one of many Armstrong mines. “This case shouldn’t have been prosecuted.”
The federal mud guidelines exist to guard mine staff from inhaling an excessive amount of dusty air, which might contribute to an incurable and deadly illness known as pneumoconiosis, or black lung. That illness has killed tens of 1000’s of coal miners.
The nation’s former mine security chief, Dave Zatezalo, stated in an announcement concerning the Armstrong Coal indictments in 2018 that compliance with mud security guidelines “is crucial to protecting miners against respiratory illness.”
However a choose’s order in 2019 barred prosecutors from discussing the connection between coal mud in mines and black lung illness on the trial. U.S. District Choose Joseph McKinley dominated that “language specifically mentioning black lung and the disease process is not relevant and serves no purpose other than to inflame the jury.” McKinley had stated proof of black lung dangers may very well be introduced up at sentencing if the boys have been convicted.
The alleged incidents occurred at Armstrong’s Kronos and Parkway mines between 2013 and 2015, prosecutors stated. A gaggle of mine staff had complained about dusty situations on the mines and met with a lawyer, which set the case in movement. Not less than two of the previous staff have been identified with black lung illness.
The trial was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic and later moved from Owensboro to Louisville A brand new choose additionally was assigned, U.S. District Choose Benjamin Beaton, a Paducah native.
Together with Hardison and Barber, former security director Brian Keith Casebier and Dwight Fulkerson, a former part foreman, have been additionally acquitted of the conspiracy prices Wednesday.
The prosecution of the ex-Armstrong Coal officials was much like a case introduced towards former West Virginia coal government Don Blankenship in the wake of a 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners. Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2015 and sentenced to a 12 months in jail. He was not accused of direct duty for the lethal blast at Higher Massive Department mine, however prosecutors have been in a position to show that he had conspired to skirt mine security guidelines.