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Judge: Ex-coal CEO Blankenship's conviction should be tossed

JOHN RABY
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2018 file photo former coal executive Don Blankenship waits outside the West Virginia Capitol after the Capitol was evacuated due to a fire alarm in Charleston, W.Va. A federal magistrate judge has recommended tossing Blankenship's misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhson wrote Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 that Blankenship’s rights were violated under the Brady rule, which says suppression of evidence favorable to the accused violates due process. (AP Photo/John Raby, file)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Former coal CEO Don Blankenship's misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws should be tossed out, a federal magistrate judge in West Virginia recommended Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhson wrote that Blankenship's rights were violated under the Brady rule, which says suppression of evidence favorable to the accused violates due process.

He recommended that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger, who presided over Blankenship's 2015 trial, throw out the conviction. Attorneys for Blankenship and the federal government have two weeks to file responses.

Former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, whose office handled Blankenship's prosecution, declined to comment Monday.

At issue were dozens of witness statements, along with emails and disciplinary records from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, that Blankenship said were not disclosed to him and his attorneys during his trial's discovery phase.

Aboulhson said "the suppressed evidence could have had some weight and its tendency could have been favorable" to Blankenship but does not prove his innocence.

He also said prosecutors did not act in bad faith or malice toward Blankenship.

Blankenship is the former CEO of Massey Energy, which owned a mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 workers in southern West Virginia. He spent a year in federal prison.

His conviction was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 declined to consider a further appeal.

After Blankenship asked for the conviction to be vacated last year, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended it should not be overturned.