Criminal Justice

Elevator conversation results in new trial for BP engineer convicted in Deepwater Horizon case


A federal judge in New Orleans on Thursday blasted defense lawyers in a high-profile criminal case for interviewing jurors after their guilty verdict.

Doing so may have violated his instructions to the jurors not to discuss their verdict even after the trial had concluded, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. suggested. He called the interviews “inappropriate and contrary to the law of this district and circuit,” Reuters reports.

But at the same time, Duval also vacated last year’s obstruction conviction of BP engineer Kurt Mix and granted him a new trial based on the defense attorney juror interviews. They revealed that the forewoman of the jury had told others, during deliberations, about an elevator conversation she had overheard, in an effort to sway their opinions, according to the Advocate and Reuters.

Mix, who was accused by prosecutors of deleting text messages in a effort to derail the government’s investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, had been acquitted on one of the two obstruction counts on which he was tried. His counsel said he knew nothing about a pending grand jury investigation at the time and portrayed him as a little guy taking the fall for wrongdoing by others.

In interviews conducted by the court after the defense sought a new trial for Mix, the forewoman admitted overhearing the elevator conversation, which referred to other defendants who would be tried in connection with the 2010 oil rig blowout that caused a massive oil spill, but denied discussing the conversation. However, other jurors recalled that she had.

“I was standing in the elevator with my juror tag on and, you know, in display, minding my own business, and I overheard something in the elevator and I was debating on whether or not I should share this with you because it helps me,” said the forewoman, according to Duval’s decision, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It’s going to help me not lose any sleep at night over convict[ing]—you know, voting guilty,” she said.

Duval said her remarks were made “at a critical time in the deliberations, that is after the jury had deadlocked” and said it “appears likely … her statements were made specifically to influence the outcome of the decision,” the Advocate reports.

Associated Press and Bloomberg also have stories.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “DOJ Files First Criminal Charges in BP Oil Spill; Engineer Is Accused of Deleting Texts”

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