A former BP Plc (BP/) senior engineer found guilty last year of destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was granted a new trial based on his claim of juror misconduct.
Kurt Mix was convicted by a federal jury in December of one of two counts of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said Mix deleted from his mobile phone text messages and voice mails related to BP’s effort to estimate the size of what turned out to be largest U.S. offshore oil spill.
Mix asked U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. in New Orleans to throw out the conviction, contending he didn’t get a fair trial. Duval yesterday rejected Mix’s claim that the evidence wasn’t sufficient for a conviction, while finding he wasn’t tried by an impartial jury because of misconduct by one of the 12 panelists.
That juror brought in comments from outside the jury room she had overheard in an elevator, saying that they reaffirmed her intent to vote guilty, Duval said. The remark came after the jury was deadlocked “and a verdict was reached in essence two deliberative hours thereafter,” he said.
The jury was probably influenced by this, given the timing and that the rest of the jurors didn’t tell the court about it before rendering a verdict, Duval said. He didn’t set a date for the new trial.
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.
The accident spurred thousands of lawsuits against BP and its contractors Transocean Ltd. (RIG:US), the owner of the drilling rig, and Halliburton Co. (HAL:US), which provided cementing services for the project. A federal judge is considering whether BP will be liable for as much as $18 billion in water pollution fines.
Joan McPhee, Mix’s attorney, said in an e-mailed statement that her client was gratified by the judge’s decision.
“Kurt Mix is an extraordinary person and engineer of great integrity who gave his heart and soul as a first responder to stop the flow of oil,” McPhee said.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on the ruling.
Mix, who was involved in leading efforts to cap the Macondo well as crude gushed into the gulf, has denied intentionally destroying evidence. Mix faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted at a second trial.
The blowout of BP’s Macondo well in deep water off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010 killed 11 people. BP agreed in 2012 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 seaman’s 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.
The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-00171, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org Andrew Dunn, Peter Blumberg