Jury convicts ex-BP engineer Kurt Mix of obstruction

Dec. 18, 2013 at 1:16 PM
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NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Jurors in the first criminal trial on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico convicted a former engineer Wednesday on one of two obstructing justice charges.

Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was accused by prosecutors of deleting a string of text messages and voice mails to hamper the government's investigation after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and exploded in the gulf in April 2010, the Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., reported.

After telling U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. they were deadlocked late Tuesday afternoon, the judge asked U.S. Justice Department prosecutors and Mix's attorneys how they wanted him to proceed.

"I'm interested in hearing what you have to say," Duval said from the bench in the courtroom in New Orleans. "It's your case."

The judge later called jurors back into court and read them a version of the so-called "Allen charge," a last resort set of instructions designed to move deadlocked jurors toward reaching a verdict.

"This is an important case," he told the panel. "If you should fail to agree on a verdict, the case is left open and may be tried again."

The jury announced it had reached a verdict Wednesday morning, its third day of deliberations.

Mix, 52, was indicted in May 2012. Federal prosecutors said he tried to impede government investigators by deleting hundreds of messages that he exchanged with a BP supervisor and a BP contractor. All but 17 of the deleted text messages eventually were recovered by forensic experts. His defense team argued most of the deleted messages were not germane to the spill, which showed there was no cover-up attempt.

Prosecutors said Mix deliberately deleted messages on whether BP executives actually knew how much oil was gushing from the well and when they knew it.

Mix is the first person to be tried in the 2010 disaster, which killed 11 workers and spilled 4.2 million barrels of heavy crude into the Gulf of Mexico. He is one of four BP employees charged in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

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