CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a federal judge prepares to sentence four foremen from Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine who pleaded guilty to mine safety crimes, the widows of two miners who died in a January 2006 fire at the mine are again questioning why prosecutors did not go further up Massey's management hierarchy.
Last week, Bruce Stanley, a lawyer for the widows of miners Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield, wrote to U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. On Thursday, Copenhaver is scheduled to sentence four foremen who earlier this year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal violations of federal mine safety laws.
Stanley said in the Dec. 2 letter that his clients, Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield, are not seeking harsher sentences for the four foremen, Edward Ellis, Donald Hagy, Michael Plumley and Terry Shadd.
"Let me be perfectly clear that the widows do not wish to make it any harder on the four gentlemen set to be sentenced," Stanley wrote. "It remains the widows' position that the upper level mine and company managers are more responsible for the conditions that existed at the Alma No. 1 Mine, even if the government has concluded that criminal culpability against them cannot be established."
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has said the filing of charges against the foremen "concludes the investigation" of the Aracoma Mine fire.
Stanley sent Copenhaver a copy of a video deposition of Johnny Jones, who became president of Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. after the January 2006 fire, and asked the judge to view the video prior to Thursday's sentencing hearing. Jones was interviewed by Stanley as part of a separate lawsuit, now settled, filed against Massey by miners who survived the 2006 fire.
"It offers what we believe to be compelling insights into that company's attitude regarding both its earlier course of criminal conduct and its perceptions of the repercussions regarding the same," Stanley wrote to the judge.
Among other things, Jones says in the deposition that he was not aware of any disciplinary action taken by Aracoma Coal against any employees who were involved in the fatal fire.