MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Investigators, federal prosecutors and the trial judge acted properly in the case against a former Upper Big Branch mine official convicted of ordering a subordinate to destroy documents, and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the verdict should be upheld.
The top prosecutor for West Virginia's Southern District filed his response to former security chief Hughie Elbert Stover's appeal on Thursday in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
In the 68-page brief, Goodwin said there's no merit to claims that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger erred in refusing to throw out Stover's interview with investigators, or that she erred in 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 April 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch killed 29 men.
The mine was operated at the time by Massey Energy, which was later bought by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha recently sealed the mine.
Stover was sentenced to three years behind bars -- one of the stiffest punishments ever handed down in a mine safety case -- but has been free pending appeal. His case is tentatively scheduled for oral argument in late September.
Stover argued that he was convicted despite "a total lack of evidence" that he lied or intended to impede the investigation of the disaster.
He argued that Berger wrongly allowed evidence the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration obtained through a subpoena that had been issued by state regulators. The appeal also claimed that the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training overstepped its authority in issuing that subpoena.
The questioning of Stover also violated his constitutional rights to remain silent while in custody or have a lawyer present, his lawyer argued.
Goodwin, however, said Stover came to the interview with an attorney and was not in custody when he knowingly lied to the investigators, who had properly issued the subpoena.