Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship earned the dubious distinction yesterday of becoming the first CEO to be convicted of conspiracy to violate federal safety laws, though the charge is only a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year jail sentence.

William Taylor, Blankenship’s attorney, maintained that the “case never should have been brought,” as it involved only corporate mismanagement. He vowed to appeal.

The conviction stemmed from the 2010 blast at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners, the worst U.S. mining disaster in almost half a century.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez hailed the verdict, saying that “there must be accountability when people lose their lives because of the neglect of their employers.”

After the blast, federal and state investigators faulted Massey for failing to maintain water sprays on a cutting machine, which enabled a spark to set off a massive coal-dust explosion that swept though two miles of tunnels, killing miners in its path.

Blankenship was accused of knowing about the safety violations involving the water sprays but covered them up prior to the blast.