Federal appeals court upholds ruling that gives new trial to BP engineer in Deepwater Horizon disaster _lowres

Associated Press file photo by GERALD HERBERT -- Kurt Mix, left leaves federal court with an unidentified member of his defense team in New Orleans during his obstruction of justice trial in December. A federal judge has since thrown out the conviction and ordered a new trial.

A former BP engineer whose obstruction-of-justice conviction was overturned this month by a federal judge in New Orleans is slated to be tried for a second time in August for deleting a string of text messages in an alleged effort to hamper the government’s criminal investigation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Kurt Mix, who lives in Texas, was the first of five defendants to stand trial in connection with the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Mix was found guilty of one charge and acquitted of another in December after jurors deliberated for more than nine hours over three days.

Mix’s attorneys had asked U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. to vacate the jury’s guilty verdict, claiming juror misconduct based on an interview they conducted with a juror after the trial. The juror told the lawyers that the jury forewoman acknowledged to the rest of the group that she overheard a conversation in the courthouse elevator that made it easier to render a guilty verdict. Duval granted Mix’s motion for a new trial on June 12.

Federal prosecutors are still deciding whether to appeal Duval’s order for a new trial, court records show.

Meanwhile, Duval has scheduled the retrial to start Aug. 18 on the one count on which Mix was found guilty.

In speaking with a reporter after the trial ended, several jurors said the deciding factor between the two counts was hearing the testimony of the BP contractor who was on the receiving end of many of the deleted text messages.

A BP contractor named Wilson Arabie, whose exchanges were the focus of the second count, testified that he didn’t believe most of the 100 or so text messages were relevant to the oil spill response. Mix was cleared of that charge.

Instead, Mix was found guilty of obstruction for deleting about 200 messages that he exchanged with a BP supervisor, Jonathan Sprague. Unlike Arabie, Sprague never took the stand, a point that some jurors said played into their decision.

Ironically, Arabie — whose testimony jurors said was key to their decision to acquit Mix on the second count — was called as a witness by the government.

All but 17 of the deleted text messages were later recovered by forensic experts.

Mix was brought in by BP to study how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after its Macondo well erupted 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010. He played no role in the fire and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig or in the missteps by BP and other companies that led to the disaster, which killed 11 men.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.