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Prosecutors prepared to show Stover acted improperly as police officer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors say they are prepared to offer testimony at the sentencing of former Massey Energy security director Hughie Elbert Stover about unspecified "misconduct" by Stover while he was a police officer.

Prosecutors also say they have witnesses who can tell U.S. District Judge Irene Berger about instances of "racially motivated misconduct" and sexual harassment by Stover, according to a document filed in federal court in Beckley.

The court document -- a three-page witness list filed late Friday -- provides no details about the alleged misconduct by Stover.

On Wednesday, Berger is scheduled to sentence Stover, who was convicted in October by a federal jury who concluded he lied to investigators and tried to destroy evidence in the government's probe of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

The charges against Stover focused on his role in a Massey practice of warning workers underground of impending safety inspections, a routine occurrence that federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators now say played a major role in the April 5, 2010, disaster that killed 29 miners.

On Monday, Berger issued a 19-page ruling that denied Stover's request for a new trial and his motion that the judge set aside the jury verdict and issue a judgment of acquittal.

By statute, Stover could face a maximum of 25 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines, which judges can ignore or follow, recommend a sentence of between 33 and 41 months.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has urged Berger to give Stover the maximum allowable jail time, arguing the security director "played a singular and indispensable role" in helping Massey hide safety hazards at the mine and "stop MSHA inspectors form ever discovering how dangerous UBB truly was."

Defense lawyer Bill Wilmoth has responded by saying Stover's actions played no role in the mine disaster, and by saying the 60-year-old former Raleigh County sheriff's deputy is also "a veteran, a community and family man, who has been employed his entire life and presents no threat."

Wilmoth asked Berger to sentence Stover to no jail time.

"He has no history of criminal activity, and he has no history of substance abuse," Wilmoth said in a legal filing. "He does, however, have a long and consistent history of gainful work in law enforcement and security at coal mines."

In filing the government's witness list, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said that three former Upper Big Branch security guards would testify about "misconduct as a police officer" by Stover. One of the former guards was expected to testify about "racially motivated misconduct" by Stover and another about "sexual harassment," according to the witness list.

Also scheduled to testify about Stover's military history and his police record is FBI special agent James Lafferty. The witness list says Lafferty is expected to also testify about "sexually explicit images" the government found stored on Stover's office computer.

Asked to comment on the witness list disclosures, Wilmoth said, "Elbert Stover has spent his entire life serving others, as a Marine, as a sailor, as a law enforcement officer, and as a stalwart in the local volunteer fire department, in addition to being a wonderful grandfather and citizen."

The government also listed as witnesses MSHA coal administrator Kevin Stricklin, who will testify about the disaster investigation, and Gina Jones, whose husband, Dean Jones, died at Upper Big Branch.

In a second witness list filed Monday afternoon, prosecutors revealed that another government witness at Stover's sentencing would be former Upper Big Branch mine superintendent Gary May.

Last week, May was charged with conspiracy to violate mine safety standards and cover up the resulting hazards at the Upper Big Branch Mine. He was charged with a document called an information, rather than through a grand jury indictment, which typically means a defendant has reached a plea deal and is cooperating with prosecutors. Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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