The first of four current or former BP employees charged with crimes related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill has been found guilty of obstructing justice because he deleted text messages from his cellphone that contained information about the worst offshore spill in the nation's history.
NPR's Debbie Elliott tells our Newscast Desk that a federal jury in New Orleans convicted 52-year-old Kurt Mix on Wednesday.
Mix, she says, was involved in BP's failed attempt to stop the out-of-control well after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 rig workers. In one of the deleted messages, Mix estimated a much higher rate of oil flow than BP had publicly acknowledged.
The jury acquitted Mix on a second, similar count. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
As The Associated Press writes, prosecutors argued that Mix "was trying to destroy evidence when he deleted hundreds of text messages to and from a supervisor and a BP contractor. Mix's indictment also accused him of deleting two voicemails from the same two people."
The wire service adds that "Mix's lawyers said their client didn't hide anything. He preserved other records containing the same information contained in the deleted messages, they told jurors."
Mix left BP in 2011.
Update at 1 p.m. ET. Appeal Expected.
Mix's attorneys have released a statement that reads, in part:
"Today in New Orleans, Kurt Mix was rightly acquitted of one of the two counts he faced — and we will continue to fight until we receive the full vindication that Kurt deserves. ...
"As a first step, we will be filing shortly additional material in support of our pending Rule 29 motion for a judgment of acquittal on Count One, a motion that Judge Duval expressly reserved for consideration following the jury's deliberations. We believe our motion is meritorious and should be granted by the Court.
"Rest assured we will use every avenue to appeal this case until Kurt is fully exonerated."