4 ex-coal mine officers cleared in Kentucky fraud trial

This April 14, 2009, file photo, shows the new Parkway underground mine in Central City, Ky. A group of former coal company officials will go on trial in Kentucky next week for allegedly skirting federal rules meant to reduce deadly dust in underground mines. The four men on trial, who worked for now-bankrupt Armstrong Coal, ordered workers at two Kentucky mines, including the Parkway mine, to rig dust-monitoring equipment to pass air quality tests, federal prosecutors said.

This April 14, 2009, file photograph, reveals the brand new Parkway underground mine in Central Metropolis, Ky. A gaggle of former coal firm officers will go on trial in Kentucky subsequent week for allegedly skirting federal guidelines meant to cut back lethal mud in underground mines. The 4 males on trial, who labored for now-bankrupt Armstrong Coal, ordered staff at two Kentucky mines, together with the Parkway mine, to rig dust-monitoring gear to move air high quality checks, federal prosecutors mentioned.

AP Photograph/Daniel R. Patmore, File

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal jury has cleared 4 former coal firm officers who had been accused of skirting mud guidelines in two underground Kentucky mines.

The jury in U.S. District Court docket in Louisville deliberated Wednesday for about two hours earlier than returning not responsible verdicts. The trial was a uncommon try and prosecute coal firm officers on felony prices.

Federal prosecutors had alleged that the lads ordered subordinates to tamper with mud assortment gear at two Armstrong Coal mines with a view to keep in compliance with federal rules.

However protection attorneys mentioned prosecutors lacked proof that the lads had taken half in a conspiracy to cheat the principles.

Kent Wicker, a Louisville lawyer, mentioned there “was by no means a scrap of proof” that his consumer, Glendal “Buddy” Hardison, was responsible.

“We had been gratified the jury understood,” Wicker mentioned.

Hardison, the best rating firm official of the 4, was accountable for 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 had been initially charged within 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 lads took no half in rigging mud pumps and did not explicitly order anybody to interrupt the guidelines.

“On this case I knew my consumer was not responsible,” mentioned Marc S. Murphy, an lawyer 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 may contribute to an incurable and deadly illness referred to as pneumoconiosis, or black lung. That illness has killed tens of hundreds of coal miners.

The nation’s former mine security chief, Dave Zatezalo, mentioned in an announcement in regards to the Armstrong Coal indictments in 2018 that compliance with mud security guidelines “is essential to defending miners in opposition to respiratory sickness.”

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 Decide Joseph McKinley dominated that “language particularly mentioning black lung and the illness course of will not be related and serves no goal aside from to inflame the jury.” McKinley had mentioned proof of black lung dangers may be introduced up at sentencing if the lads had been convicted.

The alleged incidents occurred at Armstrong’s Kronos and Parkway mines between 2013 and 2015, prosecutors mentioned. A gaggle of mine staff had complained about dusty situations on the mines and met with a lawyer, which set the case in movement. No less than two of the previous staff have been recognized 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 Decide Benjamin Beaton, a Paducah native.

Alongside with Hardison and Barber, former security director Brian Keith Casebier and Dwight Fulkerson, a former part foreman, had been additionally acquitted of the conspiracy prices Wednesday.

The prosecution of the ex-Armstrong Coal officers was just like a case introduced in opposition to former West Virginia coal government Don Blankenship within the wake of a 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners. Blankenship was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2015 and sentenced to a yr in jail. He was not accused of direct duty for the lethal blast at Higher Massive Department mine, however prosecutors had been capable of show that he had conspired to skirt mine security guidelines.

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