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Potential jurors in Blankenship case must respond to 87 questions

By Wendy Holdren Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Three hundred potential jurors must respond to a 17-page questionnaire, which asks 87 questions, including, “What, if any, opinions have you formed about Donald L. Blankenship, who was the former CEO of Massey Energy, which owned the Upper Big Branch Mine?”

The questionnaire, sent to prospective jurors in the Charleston and Huntington divisions, was made public Wednesday.

A 12-member impartial jury must be empaneled for the trial of Blankenship, who is charged with conspiracy to violate safety standards at UBB, where 29 men were killed in an April 2010 explosion. He is also charged with making false statements to securities regulators and investors.

Jurors were asked a number of questions about their educational background, employment history and specialized training, as well as their affiliation with any social, political or religious organizations.

Specifically, jurors must answer if they have ever been a member of a labor union, have ever held a job with public safety or have ever been employed by a federal, state or regulatory agency.

Jurors were asked if they or anyone close to them have ever been involved in a work-related accident. Question 51 asks jurors to agree or disagree with the following statements:

• If the government has charged someone with a crime, that person probably engaged in some kind of wrongdoing.

• People who make a lot of money are treated better by our court system than other people.
• Most coal mine operators care more about producing coal than about the safety of their miners. • Most corporate executives would break the law if they would not get caught.

Jurors were also asked if they have any close family members who have worked in the mining industry, or if they’ve ever known anyone who was killed or injured in a mine.

Toward the end of the questionnaire, jurors were asked even if they had formed opinions or feelings about the case or about Blankenship, if they could set those aside and decide the case solely on the law and evidence presented at trial.

The Charleston and Huntington divisions include Boone, Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Nicholas, Putnam, Roane, Wayne, Wirt and Wood counties.

Blankenship’s trial is set to begin Oct. 1 in Charleston. •••

In a second filing Wednesday, defense attorneys are again asking for a bill of particulars, specifically for one piece of evidence — the identities of Blankenship’s co-conspirators in connection with the conspiracy charge.

“The conspiracy alleged in Count One is, if not unprecedented, unusual to say the least,” the defense wrote.

“Whereas typical conspiracy indictments charge two or more defendants with conspiring with each other and possibly with a discrete universe of others, Count One charges Mr. Blankenship — and Mr. Blankenship alone — with conspiring with an unspecified number of unindicted co-conspirators whose number could range in the hundreds.”

They said given the scope of the charge, which spans 27 months and includes potentially hundreds of acts, “the danger of unfair surprise at trial is undeniable.”

The defense argues their not knowing the identities of the co-conspirators is not fair or constitutional. — E-mail: [email protected] and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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