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Judge tosses charges against mining company

Coal conveyor beltIn a rare move, an Abingdon federal judge has thrown out the government’s criminal case against a mining company and a mine foreman accused of a safety violation.

U.S. District Judge James P. Jones agreed with lawyers for Hills Coal Co. and its foreman that prosecutors had failed to prove the necessary criminal intent to support the single misdemeanor and 12 felony charges in the case.

The Appalachian company was accused of failing to install a guard over a roller on a conveyor belt system. No accidents or injuries were involved, according to a lawyer for the coal company.

The indictment asserted that Hills and foreman David Grigsby falsely represented in a record book that all required guards were adequate. The company faced a maximum fine of $500,000 on each of 13 counts and Grigsby faced up to five years in prison.

The case went to trial Dec. 16. The next day, after the government rested its case, the defendants moved for acquittal. They argued in part that prosecutors failed to show that there was any intent to violate the safety rules. The mine had installed a guard over the roller within a day of being notified of the violation, one lawyer said.

Jones agreed there was insufficient evidence of criminal intent. He granted the defendants’ motion and entered a judgment of acquittal on all charges Dec. 18.

Grigsby was represented by Randall C. Eads of Abingdon and Billy R. Shelton of Lexington, Ky.  Hills Coal Co. was represented by Wade V. Davies of Knoxville, Tenn.,  Richard E. Plymale of Lexington, Ky., and Elsey A. Harris III of Norton.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on the acquittal.

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