The criminal charges against Aracoma, though, focused on violations that hampered miners trying to evacuate the mine after the fire had started, and charges against five foremen dealt with escape drills in the months prior to the fatal blaze.
Prior to Thursday's hearing, Aracoma foreman David R. Runyon pleaded guilty to not conducting required evacuation drills and was fined $1,000. Along with probation, Hagy, Ellis and Plumley were each fined $2,000. Shadd was fined $1,000.
All five foremen reached plea deals in which they admitted to misdemeanor charges, but at least three of them -- Ellis, Hagy and Plumley -- admitted during the plea hearings that they also falsified mine safety records, which is a felony under federal mine safety law.
Still, prosecutors, defense lawyers and Copenhaver emphasized at the July plea hearing and again at Thursday's sentencing that the foremen's actions had not been shown to have a "causal connection" to the fatal fire in 2006.
Stanley, the widows' lawyer, noted in brief comments to Copenhaver that the U.S. House of Representatives had on Wednesday refused to pass legislation that would expand the ability to hold corporate officers and board members responsible for mine safety crimes.
The Obama administration's labor secretary, Hilda Solis, said in a statement that she was "deeply disappointed" that the House didn't pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act of 2010.
"The measure would compel the worst of the worst in the mining industry to change how they treat their miners," Solis said.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said his office is continuing its investigation of the April 5 explosion that killed 29 workers at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, and would take the inquiry wherever the evidence points.
"We're going to take any investigation as far as it will lead us," Goodwin said. "Sometimes, the frustration is that the criminal statutes are geared toward the people at the middle and lower levels.
"But if you have pervasive conditions, you have to think that there is something in that corporate culture, and we'll take any investigation as far as it leads."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.