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Former CEO Pleads Not Guilty To Charges In W. Va. Coal Mine Explosion

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- In April 2010, a fatal explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia took the lives of 29 workers.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged Massey's then-CEO, Donald Blankenship, with four criminal counts, including willfully violating mandatory mine safety and health standards and violating securities laws.

On Thursday, Blankenship pled not guilty in Beckley, WV.

"Over 50 miners died while Don Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy, and it's sad that it took the death of 29 to finally bring us to this day," attorney Bruce Stanley told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

Stanley, who grew up with Blankenship in West Virginia, has represented some of the families of the victims, along with Pittsburgh attorney Dave Fawcett, whose legal fights with Blankenship became the basis of a book, "The Price of Justice."

"He always cared more about profits than people," noted Fawcett, "and that had enormous ramifications for the people who did business for him, for the people that worked for him, and for the people underneath him."

In the two years before the explosion, Massey was cited 835 times for safety violations.

While the court imposed a gag order on the criminal case, these attorneys are speaking out -- and Stanley has spoken with some of the families.

"It has been a long time since the UBB disaster and the government investigation has run many years, and people were losing hope, frankly, that he would ever be held to account in a court of law," said Stanley. "So it's a great relief to the families to see him finally held into court."

"Very unusual for the head of a large public company, a large company, to be held responsible," added Fawcett.

Fawcett says the criminal charges send a strong message to all CEOs of companies everywhere.

"Corporate executives certainly have to consider not just profits but by abiding by the law."

Blankenship was released on a $5 million cash bond. His trial is set for Jan. 26.

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