BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Prosecutors and defense lawyers will make closing arguments Wednesday in the case of a Massey Energy security director charged with lying to federal agents and destroying documents sought by investigators looking into the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
Both sides rested their cases Tuesday, after jurors heard one Upper Big Branch Mine guard describe how security director Hughie Elbert Stover told him to throw out thousands of mine visitor logs and incident reports amid a massive criminal investigation of the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
Jurors also heard from Stover, who took the stand Tuesday afternoon in his own defense.
"It never crossed my mind that I was doing something illegal," Stover testified, according to an account from WSAZ-TV. "There's nothing on earth that would make me commit a crime. I wouldn't wish on anyone the heartache and misery I've put them [his family] through."
Stover testified in his own defense in just the second day of trial in U.S. District Court in Beckley. The former Marine and Raleigh County sheriff's deputy faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on both counts against him.
The case focuses attention on the practice of advance notification of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration inspections, which is a crime punishable by up to six months in jail.
Stover is not charged with that, but instead with falsely telling investigators that his security staff did not warn workers when MSHA inspectors arrived at the mine gate. Stover also is charged with later trying to get rid of security documents investigators say shed light on security policies and practices at Upper Big Branch.
Federal officials began digging into advance notification practices at Massey following a May 2010 congressional hearing. Families of miners who died at Upper Big Branch testified at that hearing that security guards routinely radioed ahead to the mine office when inspectors arrived so that mine management could alert workers underground and fix any safety problems before inspectors could cite them.
FBI Special Agent Robert Pruden testified Tuesday that Stover told him and an MSHA special investigator that he took some heat from management in 1999 when he did away with a Massey practice of warning about inspections.
"He said he would not have his guards breaking the law or breaking the regulations to have guards making notification of inspectors being on the property," Pruden said, describing a Nov. 3, 2010, interview with Stover.
But so far, at least four Upper Big Branch security guards have testified it was standard procedure to announce it over the radio when any non-Massey employee visitors -- including inspectors -- arrived at the mine.
"That's the way I was shown when I first started working the gate," guard Jonathan Williams said.