CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former Massey Energy security chief convicted of obstructing the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster investigation should not have to go to jail, his defense lawyer is telling a federal judge.
Hughie Elbert Stover is "a sixty-year-old veteran, a community and family man who has been employed his entire life and presents no threat," defense lawyer Bill Wilmoth said in papers filed with U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.
In October, a federal jury convicted Stover of two felonies: making a false statement and obstructing justice. Jurors concluded that Stover lied to investigators and then tried to destroy evidence about Massey's practice of warning underground workers when federal inspectors arrived at Upper Big Branch.
By statute, Stover could face a maximum of 25 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines, which judges can follow or ignore, recommend a sentence of between 33 and 41 months.
Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 29 in federal court in Beckley.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin urged Berger to depart from the guidelines and send Stover to jail for the maximum 25-year sentence. Goodwin argued that Stover's actions played a major role in causing the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 coal miners.
In a seven-page sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday, prosecutors said the miners died "in part" because of a system of inspection warnings Stover helped to coordinate. They said Stover later "acted to sabotage" the largest mine disaster probe in a generation.
But Wilmoth wrote that Stover was innocent, having been trapped by "either inartfully vague or deliberately obtuse" questions from investigators. Wilmoth also argued that the crimes he was charged with had nothing to do with the mine disaster.
"The tragedy at UBB in April 2010 will live large in the hearts and minds of West Virginians forever as a terrible event," Wilmoth wrote. "The actions for which Elbert Stover was convicted, however, occurred much later, from August 2010 to January 2011, and were wholly unrelated to the cause of the explosion.