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UPDATE: Court Upholds Conviction in W.Va. Mine Explosion

By: Brooks Jarosz; The Associated Press Email
By: Brooks Jarosz; The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 12/14/12
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- An appeals court has upheld the conviction of a former security chief convicted of lying to investigators after the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine.

Hughie Elbert Stover claimed there was no evidence he knowingly lied when he told investigators that miners weren't alerted whenever inspectors arrived. He also was convicted of ordering a subordinate to destroy documents.

A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday there was substantial evidence to support Stover's conviction.

A former mine superintendent also charged in the nation's worst mine disaster in four decades will be sentenced next year.

A former president of a different Massey Energy mine is cooperating in the UBB probe and will enter a plea to conspiracy charges in January.

Statement from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin

“This case is an important victory for the safety of miners, so today’s decision is a welcome one,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “Investigations of mine disasters serve a critical role in making mines safer. To obstruct one of those investigations, especially one involving a tragedy like that at Upper Big Branch, is reprehensible.”

“The evidence against Mr. Stover was overwhelming,” Goodwin continued, “so I am not surprised that his conviction was upheld in all respects. This case should be a powerful warning to anyone tempted to interfere with a mine safety inquiry.”

Stover’s conviction was affirmed unanimously by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. “In sum,” the panel said, “we affirm the district court’s judgment in its entirety.”



UPDATE 9/21/12 @ 11 a.m.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A federal appeals court sounded skeptical of the claims raised by a former West Virginia mine security chief convicted of lying to investigators after the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Hughie Elbert Stover's case Friday. The court usually takes several weeks to issue a ruling.

Stover supervised security guards at the Upper Big Branch mine. A jury found that he lied to investigators about whether miners were warned whenever inspectors arrived at the mine. Stover's lawyer argued that there was no evidence that Stover knowingly gave a false statement.

Judge Andre Davis said there was "tons of circumstantial evidence." And Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III stressed the importance of unannounced inspections.



UPDATE 6/29/12
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says investigators, prosecutors and the trial judge acted properly in the case against a former Upper Big Branch mine security chief, and his conviction should be upheld.

The prosecutor filed his response to Hughie Elbert Stover's appeal Thursday in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Goodwin says there's no merit to claims that Judge Irene Berger erred in refusing to throw out Stover's interview with investigators or refusing to dismiss the charges and acquit him.

Stover was convicted last fall of lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

The 2010 explosion at the West Virginia mine killed 29 men.

Stover was sentenced to three years. He's free pending appeal.



UPDATE 5/21/12 @ 11:05 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- A former security chief convicted of lying to investigators about the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine says he deserves a new trial.

Hughie Elbert Stover filed his appeal Monday with the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Stover says it's not based on the weight of the government's evidence but a total lack of evidence.

He was convicted last fall of lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents after the disaster.

But attorney William Wilmoth says there's no proof that Stover lied or that he ever intended to impede the government's investigation. He also says that prosecutors falsely portrayed the evidence they had.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has said that Stover was convicted fairly, in every respect.



UPDATE 3/14/12 @ 10 a.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- A former security chief found guilty of lying to investigators about the 2010 explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners is appealing his conviction.

An attorney for Hughie Elbert Stover says he's taking the case to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

A filing in U.S. District Court in Beckley says Judge Irene Berger wrongly denied a request for certain instructions to the jury, as well as Stover's request for a new trial. That motion also alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

Stover was convicted in October of ordering a subordinate to destroy security-related documents following the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

He was sentenced to three years in prison Feb. 29. It's one of the stiffest punishments ever issued in a mine safety case.



UPDATE 2/29/12 @ 10:45 p.m.
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A former Upper Big Branch mine security chief will spend time in prison.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced Hughie Stover on Wednesday in Beckley.

Stover was convicted of lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy thousands of documents after the 2010 disaster that killed 29 men in southern West Virginia.

During the hearing, Stover was sentenced to three years in prison. Once he is released, he will spend two years on supervised release and pay a $20,000 fine.

“Today’s sentence sends a clear message that when a person obstructs an investigation—especially an investigation as critical as UBB – there will be consequences,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.

Stover faced up to 25 years in prison.

Stover was the chief of security at UBB and at least two other then-Massey operations when the April 5, 2010, explosion claimed the lives of the 29 miners and injured two others.

According to information from Goodwin's office, a jury found that Stover made materially false statements to an FBI Special Agent and a Special Investigator for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). These federal agents were investigating allegations that security guards at UBB routinely notified mine personnel when MHSA inspectors arrived at the mine.

Stover falsely denied that such a practice existed and falsely told the agents that he would have fired any security guard who provided such advance notice.

In addition, Stover himself instructed UBB security guards to notify mine personnel whenever MSHA inspectors arrived at the mine. Stover also caused a person known to the grand jury to dispose of thousands of pages of security-related documents stored in a Massey building near the UBB mine, with the intent to impede the federal investigation.

Also at sentencing, the Court ordered the defendant to serve two years supervised release and pay a $20,000 fine.

Stover was not immediately taken to jail. He will turn himself in to serve his sentence.



ORIGINAL STORY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A federal judge has denied a new trial for an Upper Big Branch mine security chief convicted of lying to investigators after the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger ruled on the request Monday in Beckley.

Hughie Elbert Stover's sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Stover was convicted of lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy thousands of documents after the 2010 disaster that killed 29 men in southern West Virginia.

Stover's attorney says his client deserves no jail time.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin plans to call witnesses Wednesday including Mine Safety and Health Administration coal administrator Kevin Stricklin, along with others who will testify about Stover's Army background and as a police officer.


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