Federal Trial Set for Ex-BP Engineer

A U.S. District Court will hear the case of United States vs. Mix beginning on June 10, in the Eastern District of Louisiana. This will be the first criminal trial resulting from the BP spill.

BP has pleaded guilty to 14 counts of criminal charges related to the spill. However, Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, has pleaded not guilty. Mix has been charged with two counts of obstructing justice alleging he deleted text-message strings from his mobile phone related to the company’s efforts to estimate the size of the spill. Mix was supposed to provide information to a sub-committee of Congress, however now the government has accused him of providing false, misleading, or wrong information.

Immediately after the drilling rig disaster, one of the main concerns was how fast the oil was flowing out of the well. Mix and others were responsible for reporting this flow-rate to the government, which proved to be a very difficult task. The gushing well was more than 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Kurt Mix created models that showed possible flow rates between 64,000 and 110,000 barrels a day. BP’s first effort to stop the flow was called “Top Kill” which proved to be a failure. Mix and his lawyers argue that it was not possible to know that Top Kill would fail. The government, however, will argue that BP’s experts did know it would fail.

The flow rate reports are at the center of the disagreement. The government does not believe that Mix and other BP representatives told the Congressional subcommittee the truth in May of 2010. The government argues that Mix was doing wrong when he deleted two strings of text messages related to his work determining the flow-rate. One text discussion was with a contractor; the others were between Mix and his supervisor.

Other BP officials will also go to trial this year, including two well-site managers charged with involuntary manslaughter along with obstruction of justice for not providing the government with accurate flow-rate reports.

Mix says that he did not destroy any evidence related to flow-rates. He claims that the voice and text messages he deleted were not relevant. Mix points to a clear record of the flow rate models he created for the Congressional subcommittee.

Mix and his lawyers countered that the government’s lawyers have not handed over Brady Material as they should have. Brady Material, generally, is any evidence that the prosecution has that might be useful to the defendant for reducing the punishment or establishing innocence. In this case, Mix’s lawyers asked the judge to require the government to turn over any evidence that could prove helpful in Mix’s case. The judge ordered the government to give Mix and his lawyers more than 400 pieces of evidence, including FBI interviews of witnesses.

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