Jurors at the U.S. District Court in Charleston, West Virginia, found him not guilty on one count of securities fraud and one count of making false statements.
Blankenship, 65, pleaded not guilty and has been free on a $5 million cash bond since being indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2014, four years after an underground explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, killed 29 men.
According to the indictment, the Associated Press reported, Blankenship “knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing. Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.”
While Blankenship argued that natural gas in the mine caused the explosion, four separate investigations found that unmaintained cutting equipment created a spark and ignited coal dust and methane gas.
It was the deadliest mine explosion in the U.S. since 1972, when 91 miners were killed in a fire in an Idaho silver mine, Reuters noted.
Blankenship earned his “King of Coal” moniker by transforming a once-small family business into Appalachia’s largest coal producer. Under his leadership, the company took down the mineworkers union and mastered the mountaintop removal process, reducing the land to “heaps of rubble,” Mother Jones reported.
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