By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS Dec 18 An engineer charged in
connection with the 2010 BP oil well blowout in the Gulf of
Mexico was found guilty of one count of obstructing justice by a
federal jury on Wednesday, officials said.
Kurt Mix, 52, now a former BP Plc employee, had faced
two counts of obstruction for deleting hundreds of messages he
exchanged with his supervisor and a contractor in the weeks
after the spill.
He was part of a team that scrambled to plug the Macondo
well and figure out how much oil was leaking in what became the
worst offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The Macondo well explosion on April 20, 2010, killed 11
workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and triggered an
87-day oil spill in which millions of gallons of crude flowed
into the Gulf of Mexico.
During the two-week trial, government lawyers painted Mix as
a loyal member of the drilling team who tried to shield BP from
blame by deleting text and voice messages that may have proven
BP lied about how much oil was escaping into the gulf.
Defense attorneys, who do not deny Mix deleted messages,
insisted he had no ill intent and that the deletions were
Mix, of Katy, Texas, did not take the stand in his own
defense. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to
"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," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman
of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
The defense said it would appeal the decision.
"Mix was rightly acquitted of one of the two counts he faced
- and we will continue to fight until we receive the full
vindication that Kurt deserves," his defense team said after the
verdict. "Rest assured we will use every avenue to appeal this
case until Kurt is fully exonerated."
Prosecutor Leo Tsao had told the jurors that Mix had been
warned repeatedly not to delete any information from his company
iPhone and had notified him that he might be subpoenaed before a
grand jury investigating BP's response to the spill.
By ignoring those warnings, Mix displayed "corrupt intent"
"He deleted the messages even though he had been told ...
that if he did so, he could be criminally prosecuted," the
prosecutor told the jury.
Mix's lawyer, Michael McGovern, countered that his client
was an innocent man who "told the truth to U.S. government
scientists all throughout the response effort."
McGovern said it was unreasonable to believe that Mix "a
drilling engineer with no law enforcement training whatsoever
was specifically thinking about the possibility of a grand jury
when he deleted messages from his iPhone."
Mix is one of four current or former BP employees charged
with crimes connected with the well incident. His is the first
case to be tried.
BP also faces ongoing civil litigation.