Juror Misconduct Calls BP Verdict Into Question
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former BP engineer is basing his request for a new trial on improper interviews with jurors who had convicted him of trying to obstruct a federal investigation of the company's 2010 Gulf oil spill, federal prosecutors say.
Lawyers for engineer Kurt Mix asked early this month for a new trial, saying they had learned that one juror told the others during deliberations about overhearing a conversation that made that juror feel more comfortable about convicting Mix.
In a filing Saturday, prosecutors said the defense motion should be thrown out because the information was gathered in violation of court rules requiring court permission to interview jurors. Mix's lawyers say that rule applies in civil cases — not criminal cases.
"Courts have repeatedly disregarded declarations or affidavits concerning alleged juror misconduct when obtained in violation of court order or local rule," the prosecutors' filing said.
Mix's lawyers, in a separate Saturday filing, say they did nothing wrong by contacting jurors and that they did so "for the purpose of obtaining feedback and constructive criticism on trial performance, not to obtain evidence of improprieties in the jury's deliberation."
"The information regarding the 'elevator comment' was volunteered to defense counsel, without any prompting, by the juror who provided the sworn declaration," the defense filing says.
Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His sentencing is set for March 26.
A jury convicted Mix on Dec. 18 of one count of obstruction of justice for deleting a string of text messages to and from a BP supervisor. Prosecutors accused Mix of trying to destroy evidence.
The defense's Jan. 2 request for a new trial doesn't specify the substance or possible source of the information that "Juror A" allegedly overheard in the elevator, but says other jurors urged the person not to reveal any details.
"Juror A directly injected into the jury room the idea that there existed powerful, additional proof of Mr. Mix's guilt that had not formally been allowed into evidence but that Juror A had come to obtain," defense attorneys wrote. "It is difficult to imagine a more prejudicial scenario."
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. ordered defense attorneys on Jan. 9 to refrain from any further contact with the jurors, saying he was concerned about lawyers interviewing jurors without his permission. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has "expressed general hostility toward the practice of post-trial juror interviews," the judge wrote.
Last week, Mix's lawyers asked Duval to disqualify himself from the case because he and the law clerk working on the case filed civil claims in April 2013 for damages against BP.
Duval had disclosed in 2012 that his family owns a beachfront vacation home in Grand Isle and was entitled to seek compensation from BP. He said then that he didn't see any reason to disqualify himself.