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Blankenship jury selection nearly finished

Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Joel Ebert Don Blankenship, 65, makes his way into the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston on Tuesday. The day marked the fourth for jury selection. The former Massey Energy Co. CEO faces three felony counts related to the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 mine workers died in a 2010 explosion.
Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Joel Ebert
Don Blankenship, 65, makes his way into the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston on Tuesday. The day marked the fourth for jury selection. The former Massey Energy Co. CEO faces three felony counts related to the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 mine workers died in a 2010 explosion.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jury selection in the criminal trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship appeared to be nearing an end Tuesday, but news reporters remained barred from the proceedings, even during an hour-long session where U.S. District Judge Irene Berger announced key rulings on what evidence both sides can present to jurors.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors were expected to make final decisions today about which potential jurors they would strike, according to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. That final process involves both sides using their “preemptory challenges,” which allow them to disqualify jurors without specifying a reason.

Blankenship, 65, faces three felony counts alleging that he conspired to violate mine safety standards and hide the resulting hazards from Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors. He also is charged with lying to securities regulators and the investing public about Massey’s safety practices — touting the company as always trying to comply with the law — to try to stop the company’s stock prices and his personal wealth from plummeting after the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 miners.

Blankenship says he is not guilty. His lawyers have indicated in court records that they hope to show that Blankenship was actually an innovator on many mine safety matters.

Throughout the jury selection, which began last Thursday, journalists and the public have been barred from the main courtroom. Spectators are permitted to watch a video feed in a separate courtroom but, for most of the proceedings, the sound was turned off.

At times Tuesday morning, audio from Berger’s questioning of potential jurors could be heard in the room for spectators. Several court staff members scrambled to determine which microphone in the courtroom was on, so the audio feed could again be silenced…

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