Courts

Jury Splits the Difference and Convicts Ex-BP Engineer of Destroying Evidence


The 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to haunt BP (BP). Today, after expressing uncertainty to a federal judge in New Orleans, a jury split the difference and found a former BP senior engineer of destroying evidence sought by the U.S. in its probe of the well explosion and massive spill.

The jury found Kurt Mix guilty of one of two counts of obstruction of justice. Earlier, jurors had told U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. that they couldn’t agree on a verdict. He told them to continue deliberating, and they came back with what appeared to be a compromise. Mix’s lawyer immediately said he would appeal the finding that the engineer deleted text messages and voice-mail related to BP’s estimate of the extent of the spill. Mix faces up to 20 years in prison.

Bloomberg News ably surveys the background:

The blowout of BP’s Macondo well in deep water off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010 killed 11 people. BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to resolve the federal criminal probe of its role in the spill. The London-based company pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts including 11 for felony manslaughter, one misdemeanor under the Clean Water Act, one misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and one felony count of obstruction of Congress for misrepresenting the size of the spill.

“Today, a jury in New Orleans found that Kurt Mix purposefully obstructed the efforts of law enforcement during the investigation of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history,” Mythili Raman, acting assistant U.S. attorney general, said in a statement after the verdict. Mix, the first defendant in a criminal case over the spill to face a jury, was accused of deleting multiple messages, including one in which he said the spill was bigger than BP said it was. He went on trial on Dec. 2. Jury deliberations began Dec. 16 …

Two BP well-site managers, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, were charged in November 2012 with involuntary manslaughter for the 11 deaths on the well. David Rainey, the company’s former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged that month with providing false statements related to the size of the spill. All three have pleaded not guilty. Rainey’s trial is scheduled for March. Kaluza and Vidrine face trial in June.

Meanwhile, on the civil side of the docket, BP continues to fight in federal court in New Orleans against the federal government and scores of plaintiffs’ lawyers over how many additional billions of dollars the company will have to cough up for spill-related liability.

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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