A jury in Beckley, W.Va., has found former Massey Energy security chief Hughie Stover guilty of trying to destroy evidence in the investigation of last year's deadly explosion at the company's Upper Big Branch coal mine.
The nation's worst mine disaster in 40 years killed 29 workers.
Stover, 60, was also convicted of lying to investigators about an illegal practice at the mine in which security guards warned miners underground when federal officials arrived for surprise inspections. In two days of testimony, several guards testified that Stover trained them how to surreptitiously issue the warnings.
Prosecutors said Stover ordered a subordinate to dump thousands of security documents that investigators intended to collect as evidence in the disaster investigation.
Stover was not charged with anything directly related to the deadly blast that ripped through the mine on April 5, 2010. The defense cited that fact while arguing Stover is a victim of zealous prosecutors who need to produce results in their 18-month-long criminal investigation.
"You wanted justice, and this is who they brought you," said defense attorney William Wilmoth in his closing argument, adding, "We're no closer to finding the real villain or villains in that disaster."
In fact, prosecutors have yet to file charges directly related to the explosion.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin directly addressed that allegation after the verdict was announced, according to Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette. Ward quotes Goodwin saying the Upper Big Branch "investigation continues so it's premature to say we haven't brought justice or we haven't gone after the real villains."
"Goodwin declined to speculate on when or if more criminal charges would be filed," Ward reports.
As NPR and others have reported, a federal grand jury has met and taken testimony in Charleston, W. Va.
Prosecutors said Massey Energy alerted them to Stover's attempt to dispose of the security documents in a company dumpster. The documents were recovered before the trash haulers took away the dumpster.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled in February. Stover faces as much as 25 years in prison.
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