NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new trial was ordered Thursday for a
former BP engineer convicted of deleting text messages related to the
2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood
Duval threw out Kurt Mix’s obstruction-of-justice conviction, saying
that remarks a jury forewoman overheard outside of the courtroom
influenced the verdict.
Prosecutors said Mix, of Katy, Texas,
deliberately deleted text messages to and from a supervisor and a BP
contractor to stymie a grand jury’s investigation of the spill.
defense had argued that the forewoman in the December trial told a
then-deadlocked jury that she had heard statements affirming her view
that Mix was guilty. She overheard on an elevator that people in
addition to Mix were facing trial.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers
agreed that other jurors never heard the substance of the forewoman’s
information because they stopped her before she shared it. But defense
lawyer Joan McPhee argued the forewoman communicated to jurors that she
had heard information that "affirmed her view that the correct verdict
Prosecutors said there is no evidence the forewoman’s information made a difference in the deliberations.
said in his Thursday ruling that the forewoman "polluted the jury with
her statements at a critical juncture — that is after the jury had
deadlocked." He added that it was clear that the juror herself had
failed to follow instructions that she consider only the evidence
presented in court.
Mix, 52 at the time of his conviction, had been set for sentencing in August.
The subject matter of the deleted texts in question at trial was the amount of oil flowing from the
attorneys had argued there was ample evidence that Mix shared
information about the flow rate throughout the government investigation
and that his deletion of the single string of emails fell far short of
what is needed for a conviction. They also said prosecutors failed to
prove that Mix knew the information he deleted would be pertinent to a
grand jury investigation — an investigation they said he did not know
about and that had not yet even begun.
Prosecutors said there was a great deal of evidence and that Mix knew of the possibility of a grand jury
did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Thursday
night. McPhee, reached by telephone, said she would have a comment on
behalf of Mix later Thursday or Friday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, in an emailed statement, declined comment late Thursday.
explosion on the BP-operated drilling rig Deepwater Horizon about 50
miles off the Louisiana coast in April 2001 killed 11 workers and set
off the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster.
The disaster led to complicated civil litigation expected to last for years, as well as criminal charges
against Mix and others.
well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine have pleaded not
guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from the 11 deaths. Former BP
executive David Rainey faces a charge of lying to law enforcement agents
in the case. Anthony Badalamenti, a former manager for Halliburton
Energy Services Inc., BP’s cement contractor on the rig, was sentenced
to one year of probation for destroying evidence in the aftermath of the