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Former coal CEO asks Supreme Court to revisit his conviction post-prison

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to review his misdemeanor conviction of conspiracy to violate mine safety laws.

Blankenship had publicly announced his intention to ask the high court to review a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision shortly after he concluded his one-year prison sentence. The former coal boss has insisted the charges against him were based on an aggressive prosecution and dishonest investigations that shifted blame from federal officials.

The investigation into Blankenship's conduct stems from the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia. Blankenship's attorneys said then President Barack Obama pinned responsibility for the accident on management before anyone had ever entered the mine and top U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials did the same.

In an interview with S&P Global Market Intelligence on the day of his release, Blankenship said he would continue to fight to tell the "truth about what happened at [Upper Big Branch]." He said family members of victims should "set aside as best they can the feelings" and, in the interest of their family members' memories and the safety of other miners, insist the government "tell the truth."

"The family members need to know there are truths and there are untruths," Blankenship said. "Truths are based on scientific facts and sworn testimony. This stuff about spouting off that 'Don has blood on his hands,' or 'Don is equivalent of a drug kingpin running a criminal enterprise,' anybody that knew that Massey and knows me and looks at any truth, I mean looks at something that's really tangibly true, would never believe that stuff. It's like a drama show or something. It makes no sense at all."

In the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, published by the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail, Blankenship's attorneys point to two issues for the court to review. The first is whether the Court of Appeals should have approved jury instructions permitting a criminal conviction for a willful violation of law without proof that the defendant knew his conduct was unlawful. The attorneys also ask the Supreme Court to decide whether the court erred in treating the right to later call witnesses as a substitute for the right to cross-examine a prosecution witness.

"This case stemmed from a rush to judgment at the highest levels of the federal government," the petition states. "It was permeated throughout with unchecked abuses of power by prosecutors intent on securing a conviction by any means possible in order to assign to petitioner blame for a terrible tragedy."

The petition revives suggestions Blankenship has made — such as his own publication of a booklet titled "American Political Prisoner" — that he was prosecuted as a result of a film he made that accused MSHA of imposing a ventilation plan that could have contributed to the explosion. It also suggests prosecutors acted on reactions to the film from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., with whom Blankenship had fought political battles before.

The petition said the U.S. Attorney's Office, under new leadership, released "dozens of memoranda of interviews" previously undisclosed before trial. It said that, despite prosecutors representing that all memoranda had been produced, the unreleased documents include 10 pertaining to the government's key cooperating witness at trial and another witness who was the subject of a document described as the most important to the case.