Former BP engineer will get new trial; oil spill conviction tossed

The Deepwater Horizon burns on April 21, 2010. The conviction of a BP engineer who had been charged with obstructing a federal investigation into the disaster was vacated by a federal judge today.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

A federal judge has tossed out a former British Petroleum engineer’s conviction for obstructing an investigation into the 2010 spill that leaked billions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, court records show.

Kurt Mix, a Texas resident and drilling engineer, was convicted in December of obstructing an investigation into the spill by deleting text messages that would have been relevant to the federal inquiry.

But on Thursday, a federal judge in New Orleans vacated the conviction after an investigation revealed the jury forewoman brought outside information into the deliberations last year. Mix will await a new trial.


Attorneys for Mix, 52, conducted post-trial interviews with the jurors and discovered at least one overheard something that may have affected their decision.

“I was standing in the elevator with my juror tag on and, you know, in display, minding my own business, and I overheard something in the elevator and I was debating on whether or not I should share this with you because it helps me,” said Juror No. 1, according to the decision made public Thursday. “It’s going to help me not lose any sleep at night over convict - you know, voting guilty.”

She passed that information on to several other jury members, possibly after they became deadlocked on a verdict, court records show.

Mix was ultimately convicted of obstructing the investigation but acquitted of an obstruction of justice charge. He would have faced nearly 20 years in prison.

“Today’s decision is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a country where an individual is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair and impartial jury,“ said Joan McPhee, the lead attorney for Mix’s defense team.

The spill began with an explosion and fire at the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven people died on the rig.


While BP was attempting to plug the burst wellhead with compact mud, Mix was assigned to determine how much oil was leaking from the destroyed well.

He allegedly sent several text messages to his supervisors indicating more than 600,000 gallons of oil were spilling each day, nearly triple the amount the company said in public estimates and far beyond the capacity that the mud initiative, better known as Top Kill, could stop.

Prosecutors contended Mix was trying to destroy evidence by deleting the text messages.

“These extreme circumstances place the very sanctity of the impartial nature of Mix’s jury at issue,” wrote Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. “As such, the court finds that based on these facts, Mr. Mix was not tried by an impartial jury.”

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