Convicted ex-UBB official loses appeal

A ONE-tme mine official who destroyed documents and lied to investigators after 29 of his workmates died in the Upper Big Branch explosion has had his conviction upheld by the US Court of Appeals.

Donna Schmidt

Hughie Elbert Stover was sentenced to three years’ jail in 2011 – one of the stiffest punishments ever handed out in a mine safety case – but he immediately appealed the decision on the grounds he felt no evidence existed.

The UBB blast near Montcoal in West Virginia was the worst US coal mining disaster in nearly 40 years in the US. Aspects of the tragedy are still the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation by Goodwin’s office.

On Friday, his conviction was affirmed unanimously by the three-judge federal panel of the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.

“In sum,” the panel said, “we affirm the district court’s judgment in its entirety”.

US Attorney Booth Goodwin, who had been calling for this very outcome for several months and even submitted a 68-page brief stressing that district Judge Irene Berger had acted properly in the initial conviction, called the decision “a welcome one” for a case that is “an important victory for the safety of miners”

“The evidence against Mr Stover was overwhelming,” Goodwin said.

“[S]o 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.”

He also pointed to the critical role of investigations following such an accident, as determining cause is important to making mines safer.

“To obstruct one of those investigations, especially one involving a tragedy like that at Upper Big Branch, is reprehensible,” Goodwin said.

Stover's attorney, William Wilmoth, did not publicly comment on the outcome Friday.

According to the Associated Press, Stover is inmate No. 10463-088 at the Federal Correctional Institution at Ashland, Kentucky.

UBB, owned at the time by Massey Energy, was permanently mothballed last year.

All of Massey’s properties are owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

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