Prosecutors defend charges against ex-BP engineer in Gulf spill case

NEW ORLEANS — Federal prosecutors defended Wednesday the legality of obstruction of justice charges against a former BP engineer in connection with the investigation of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In a court filing in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, prosecutors said there is no merit to Kurt Mix’s latest attempt to get the charges dismissed.

Last month, Mix’s attorney argued that transcripts show that prosecutors failed to properly inform the grand jury that indicted Mix on three different occasions of the law.

The attorney said the defects “are so fundamental, and so strike at the heart of the structural protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury clause, that the indictments against Mix must be dismissed as constitutionally invalid.”

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Prosecutors vigorously challenged that assertion in their response.

They said the defendant’s motion “relies upon flawed legal principles, mischaracterizes the facts in the record, and attempts to recycle arguments that have been rejected by the court. None of the defendant’s claims have merit. The motion should be denied.”

Mix is accused of deleting text messages and voicemails about the amount of oil that spewed from an undersea well owned by BP after it blew out off the coast of Louisiana, triggering an explosion on the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers. The oil spill was the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

In the latest motion to dismiss, Mix attorney Joan McPhee said that despite having three opportunities to do so, prosecutors never introduced to the grand jury any evidence regarding the content of the text messages and voice-mails Mix is charged with deleting.

McPhee said prosecutors had the burden to show to the grand jury that Mix acted with the “specific intent to subvert or undermine the due administration of justice.”

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Prosecutors said in their response that “the defendant’s argument that nexus requires evidence of the ‘content’ of the deleted materials flies in the face of established precedent.”

A judge previously left the charges against Mix intact. But McPhee said that in light of the full transcripts of the grand jury proceedings, the judge should throw out the indictment. A judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Mix, of Katy, has pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled for trial Dec. 2.