During trial, four of Stover's security guards testified that they were trained to announce inspectors' arrival over a radio channel audible in the Upper Big Branch Mine office. Two dispatchers testified that they were routinely instructed to relay those announcements to workers underground.
"This was standard operating procedure," testified guard Tommy Wingo. "We would announce their last name and the department they are with and that they were on the property."
Tim Watkins, an MSHA district manager, said such warnings interfere with his agency's work policing mine safety and health.
"If they get notification ahead of time, there would be an opportunity to make changes and the inspectors would not be seeing the condition the mines are actually in," Watkins told jurors.
But when Stover was interviewed by investigators -- who had already talked to several of his guards -- he said that Massey's policy and practice was never to announce inspections.
"One thing that is hammered into our head, you do not ask inspectors where they're going and you do not call the mines," Stover told investigators in a Nov. 30, 2010, interview. "You do not notify anyone when inspectors come on the property."
At trial, Stover's defense was that the law on advance notifications of inspections was vague, and that Massey lawyers approved the radio announcements, as long as all visitors -- and not just inspectors -- were announced.
But Malkin said that as investigators focused more on the issue, Stover began to "feel the heat" and in early January 2011 instructed one of his guards, Jonathan Williams, to dispose of thousands of pages of security logs, incident reports and other documents that could shed light on Massey's policies and practices.
Williams, testifying under an immunity deal with the government, said that Stover told him to get rid of boxes of files stored in a makeshift warehouse in an old house across W.Va. 3 from the mine site.
"He said to take it out and put it in trash bags," said Williams, who performed the task working overtime at 6 a.m. after an overnight shift. "He said to throw all the old paperwork in the Dumpster, the trash compactor."
Investigators learned what happened a few days later, when Williams testified before a federal grand jury. Government officials were able to retrieve the records before the Dumpster was emptied, and they found two reports indicating previous warnings from inspectors about advance notifications.
Wilmoth said that Stover didn't realize he was doing anything wrong, and was just trying to clean out old records from a crowded storage area. Stover, testifying in his own defense, called his instructions to Williams "the stupidest mistake I've ever made in my life."
During his closing, Wilmoth reminded jurors that MSHA and other government agencies have been criticized for not preventing the mine explosion.
"Someone has to take the heat off MSHA and off our government, and Elbert is their guy," Wilmoth said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Ellis responded that Wilmoth's comments were "simply a plea for sympathy" and urged the jury to not be taken in.
"Nobody has picked on some low-level guy," Ellis said. "He's the head of security. He controls the gates to this mine ... Cutting corners? He was telling them when the inspectors were there -- isn't that cutting corners?"
After the verdict came in, Goodwin declined to speculate on when -- or if -- more criminal charges would be filed related to the disaster.
"The investigation continues, so it's premature to say we haven't brought justice or we haven't gone after the real villains," Goodwin said.
@tag:Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.