Former BP engineer Kurt Mix, who was the only person found guilty at a trial in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster but later had his conviction overturned when a federal judge granted him a new trial, has apparently accepted a plea deal that’s scheduled to be unveiled Friday in federal court.
Notice of a change-of-plea hearing was filed late Thursday, indicating that Mix intends to plead guilty — probably to a reduced charge — in front of U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr.
Mix’s attorney, Walter Becker Jr., declined to comment.
Mix, who lives in Texas, was indicted in May 2012 on two counts of obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors accused him of hampering the government’s investigation of the oil spill by deleting hundreds of messages he exchanged with a BP supervisor. He played no role in the fire and explosion aboard the drilling rig or in the missteps by BP and its partners leading up to the disaster, which killed 11 men.
In the aftermath of the blowout, Mix’s job was to analyze how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Macondo well erupted April 20, 2010, about 50 miles off Louisiana’s coast. Mix determined that oil was flowing at a rate of 64,000 to 110,000 barrels a day. At the time, BP was publicly claiming that only 5,000 barrels of oil were being released each day.
Prosecutors alleged that Mix deliberately deleted the messages to stall the government’s probe and hide what BP executives knew about how much oil was flowing from the well and when they knew it. Mix’s defense attorneys argued that the messages were mostly irrelevant exchanges with friends. All but 17 of the deleted messages were later recovered by forensic experts.
Last year, Duval ordered a new trial for Mix after his attorneys found signs of juror misconduct based on interviews conducted after the trial. One juror said the panel’s 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.
More than three years after the blowout, the government’s highly publicized criminal prosecution of mostly rank-and-file workers for their roles in the spill has netted one acquittal and a lone guilty plea, which led to probation for a former Halliburton manager accused of destroying evidence after the spill.
Meanwhile, BP’s top two supervisors onboard the rig when it caught fire and exploded are slated to stand trial next year on lesser charges than those initially filed in 2012.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.