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BP engineer involved in 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill expected to change plea

Prosecutors say he deleted text messages he sent to a supervisor about the quantity of oil gushing from where the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded in 2010.

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    A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig, April 21, 2010. An engineer for BP who previously pleaded not-guilty to obstruction of justice in relation to the spill is expected to change his plea on Friday.
    Gerald Herbert/AP/File
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A former BP engineer implicated in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is expected to change his plea at a hearing in Federal court on Friday, possibly resolving a three-year legal battle.

Kurt Mix is expected to appear before US District Judge Standwood Duval on Friday morning in New Orleans. He had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice.

In early 2012, Mr. Mix was indicted on two criminal counts, initiating a rollercoaster legal battle. The following year, he was acquitted of one criminal charge but convicted of obstruction of justice. But after a jury forewoman told a fellow juror that something she heard had persuaded her to vote guilty, Mix won a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct.

He pleaded not guilty again and Nov. 30 had been marked for the trial date, but court records indicate a change-of-plea hearing is planned for Friday morning, suggesting the case may be coming to a close.

Prosecutors say he deleted text messages he sent to a supervisor about the quantity of oil gushing from where the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded.

Mix’s attorneys have defended their client by arguing he shared copious amounts of evidence regarding the flow rate at the site over the course of the investigation. They also argued that prosecutors did not prove their client knew the text messages he deleted would be relevant to a grand jury investigation – one that had not even begun yet.

Mix was part of a team of experts who were tasked with capping the deep sea gusher with a method called a “top kill.” The team was unsuccessful, but months after the 87-day spill stopped, prosecutors said he broke the law by deleting a string of text messages exchanged between himself and his supervisor.

The Christian Science Monitor first reported about Mix’s case in April of 2012. Patrik Jonsson wrote that Mix may just be one chess piece prosecutors are exploiting as they seek broader charges and penalties against BP:

While more criminal arrests are expected, the indictment against Mix – a mid-level engineer who had his pulse on how much oil was blowing out of the compromised well a mile below the Gulf of Mexico – has the earmarks of a common prosecutorial tactic in corporate cases: Single out a weak link in a company’s armor and put pressure on that person to testify on the government’s behalf.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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