UBB security chief denied new trial

A FORMER Upper Big Branch mine security chief, convicted of two felony counts late last year for lying to investigators following the April 2010 explosion in West Virginia that killed 29, will not receive a new trial and will be sentenced this week.
UBB security chief denied new trial UBB security chief denied new trial UBB security chief denied new trial UBB security chief denied new trial UBB security chief denied new trial

The Upper Big Branch mine

Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, US District Judge Irene Burger ruled against the request for Hughie Elbert Stover on Monday.

Stover faces up to 25 years in prison and will be sentenced on Wednesday.

The former chief was an employee of UBB on the day of the explosion and last November was convicted of lying to investigators and ordering workers to destroy thousands of documents following the blast on April 5, 2010.

While Stover's attorney said his client deserved no jail time, US Attorney Booth Goodwin called for Stover to receive the maximum jail sentence.

On Tuesday, the AP reported that the US Attorney’s Office would call several witnesses on Wednesday including Mine Safety and Health Administration coal administrator Kevin Stricklin.

Goodwin filed a seven-page sentencing memorandum last week telling Berger that Stover deserved the maximum sentencing because of the extent of his actions.

“A sentence consistent with the magnitude of defendant's conduct and its consequences will send a resounding message: gambling with coal miners' lives risks the most severe punishment available under the law,” he said.

“The statutory maximum sentence, by definition, is the sentence reserved for the most

extraordinary examples of a particular crime.

“The exceptional consequences of defendant’s conduct put this case in that rare category.”

He pointed out that even at the maximum sentence, Stover’s time would equate to 10.5 months for each of the 29 men killed in the April 2010 explosion in Raleigh County.

To submit a lesser sentence – advisory sentencing guidelines range between 33 and 41 months – would risk “trivializing” the security official’s actions.

In the memo, he noted that Stover was told on at least two occasions in 2001 and 2007 by US MSHA inspectors that he was violating the law by notifying crews of their presence but he continued to order the announcement of inspections.

“He required UBB security guards to act as lookouts for mine inspectors, making a radio announcement the moment an inspector arrived,” Goodwin said.

“UBB was a sprawling mine, so these early warnings routinely gave mine officials up to two hours to conceal illegal conditions.

“[The] defendant’s wrongdoing helped stop MSHA inspectors from ever discovering how dangerous UBB truly was.”

The USAO said that the “exceptional circumstances” of the case in which Stover who “played a singular and indispensable role” in a longstanding practice of pre-notifications warranted the maximum sentence.

Anything less would not reflect the seriousness of the offense or promote respect for the law.

“If this case does not warrant the maximum 25 years for obstruction of justice and a false

statement, then the maximum may be illusory, for few examples of those offenses will ever surpass this.”

To date, Stover is the only person to face criminal prosecution for actions related to the UBB explosion.

United States of America v Hughie Elbert Stover is filed as case 5:11-cr-00038.

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