CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors on Thursday moved to drop one of three felony charges against the security chief at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine, just four days before opening arguments are set to begin Monday.
The move leaves standing allegations that Hughie Elbert Stover lied to investigators and tried to cover up evidence in the probe of the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch.
Prosecutors allege that Stover told investigators Massey had a policy to never warn workers underground when government inspectors showed up at Upper Big Branch, when Stover himself allegedly directed and trained company security guards to alert workers to impending inspections.
Dropping one of the charges allows prosecutors to attempt to prove that Stover lied in a transcribed interview, and not in an unrecorded interview with FBI agents and other government agents.
"It was a strategic decision in advance of trial," said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
Bill Wilmoth, a lawyer for Stover, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger had not yet ruled Thursday on the motion by Assistant U.S. Attorney Blaire Malkin to drop one of the three charges against Stover.
Berger and lawyers in the case are scheduled to begin choosing a jury in federal court in Beckley today, and opening statements are expected to start on Monday.