Following his acquittal of an assault charge in Franklin County Municipal Court last week, coal operator Robert Murray is claiming that the trial outcome shows the criminal complaint against him by Athens environmentalist Chad Kister was "politically and financially motivated."
Kister, on the other hand, pointed out Sunday that the party that brought charges against Murray for an alleged assault on Kister last December was not Kister himself, but the Columbus city prosecutor's office.
"I just cooperated with a subpoena by the prosecutor," Kister said. "I would never have gotten anything out of this criminal trial. It just cost me time and money."
Last May, the city prosecutor filed misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct against Murray, president and CEO of the Ohio Valley Coal Co. of Alledonia, Ohio.
The charges stemmed from an attack on Kister by Murray that allegedly took place on Dec. 13, during a break in a hearing by the Ohio Reclamation Commission attended by both Murray and Kister.
The hearing was on the issue of whether Dysart Woods, an old-growth forest in Belmont County, should be off-limits to coal mining. Ohio University owns the forest, but Ohio Valley owns the coal underneath it. Murray and Kister have been on opposite sides of the legal battle for years.
Kister claims that during a break in the hearing, while he was in a hallway outside the hearing room, Murray assaulted him when Kister attempted to take photographs of the coal operator. Kister alleges that Murray put him in a headlock and smashed his head against a wall, in front of witnesses. Murray's attorneys have steadfastly denied that the assault took place.
After a week-long trial, Murray on Friday was acquitted of the charges against him. In a press release sent out the same day, Murray alleges that Kister's claims of assault were "designed to besmirch Mr. Murray's character and reputation, hurt Mr. Murray's mining business, and extort financial gain from him."
Murray goes on to claim that Kister "tried to manipulate the criminal courts of Ohio to convict Mr. Murray as a way to advance Kister's extreme environmental, political and financial agendas... The evidence showed that Kister's charges were intended to embarrass Mr. Murray and his company."
The release also restates a claim made previously by Murray's spokespersons: that Murray -- who was 61 years old at the time of the incident, had recently undergone surgery, and was wearing a neck brace -- could not have committed the alleged assault "because of his impaired physical condition."
Finally, Murray alleges that evidence in his trial showed that Kister had allegedly discussed with the head of another environmental group the possibility of "using a bulldozer by Mr. Murray's home as an intimidation tactic."
Kister said Sunday that this claim is based on a "brainstorm memo" that he wrote "about four years ago" to Jason Tockman, who at the time directed the Athens-based environmental group the Buckeye Forest Council.
In the memo, Kister said, he threw out "a bunch of different ideas, and one of them was to have a bulldozer by (Murray's) home," to publicize the purported threat to Dysart Woods by Murray's coal company.
"We decided not to do it," Kister added. "It was a brainstorm, just an idea, and not something that we considered at all seriously. We never would do anything like that."
Kister said he's baffled by the outcome of Murray's trial.
"I think it's outrageous that the jury came to that decision," he declared. "I can't understand, given the huge volume of evidence that we had showing that he assaulted me, that they came up with that decision."
Kister added that a Columbus city prosecutor reported to him that, in Murray's testimony, the coal operator claimed that he was startled by Kister's attempts to photograph him, and tripped and fell on Kister, rather than deliberately attacking him.
"That's ridiculous," Kister said.