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Ex-coal CEO seeks vindication in blast after year in prison

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After finishing a one-year prison sentence, a former West Virginia coal executive has wasted no time resuming a campaign for vindication in the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

In a phone interview Friday, ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship took up the same fight he waged before his 2015 trial: to convince people that natural gas, and not methane gas and excess coal dust, was at the root of the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners in 2010.

Blankenship was sentenced last year for a misdemeanor conspiracy to violate federal mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch. He was acquitted of felonies that could have stretched his sentence to 30 years. He finished his prison term on May 10.

“I know who I am and what I am,” Blankenship said. “And I’m more than 100 percent innocent, and the charges were ridiculous. And all the emotion and all the publicity about it was just incorrect, which has been the case with me for years and years.”

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Authorities have long dismissed Blankenship’s argument, and have shown no signs of changing that. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a longtime rival, said he hoped Blankenship would “disappear from the public eye” after his release from prison.

Among his many criticisms of the trial and prosecution, Blankenship took issue with family members of deceased miners being allowed in the courtroom, while testimony on the explosion itself was barred because he wasn’t charged with causing the explosion. And it was unfortunate, he said, that the judge wouldn’t let him or the parties bring up the explosion.

“It was sort of irreconcilable that we were packed with family members whose loved ones had been lost, as if it was something I had caused,” Blankenship said. “But yet, the trial, as ordered by the judge, and the jury was instructed, had nothing to do with…

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