Former BP Engineer Convicted of Obstructing Justice

In New Orleans today, there was a jury verdict after the U.S. Department of Justice charged Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, of deleting hundreds of text messages from his iPhone, thereby thwarting the investigation of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although none of the top executives of BP have been charged with crimes, this corporate entity acknowledged its responsibility earlier this year by pleading guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 workers; and thereafter, BP agreed to pay $4 billion in penalties.

Mix was part of the team of experts involved in the efforts by BP to stop oil from gushing out of their blown-out well using a technique called “top kill.” He had access to internal data about how much oil was actually flowing from the blown-out well. It was reported that Mix received 10 individual BP notices that he was obligated to preserve all of his spill-related records. One of the texts messages was an exchange with his supervisor in which Mix estimated there were about 630,000 gallons of oil spilling per day; this amount was actually about three times greater than the estimate BP disclosed to the public at the time. By deleting text messages, the BP engineer was destroying inculpatory evidence, which would be critical proof that would tend to establish guilt of BP and its agents and employees.

 The sentencing hearing is set for March 26, 2014, and Mix faces up to 20 years in prison for this conviction.

When media interferes with politics

“This case is an example of how politics and the media wrongly interfered with our American justice system.
First, law enforcement did its job and after its investigation concluded they did not have probable cause to arrest Zimmerman. However, there were inappropriate remarks by some politicians and others, including statements made by the President, that in turn were publicized by countless reporters in the media, that made the case more about race than thousands of other tragic deaths in society all over the United States. This pressure changed the direction of the case from a tragic accident or one of self defense to a charge of murder and manslaughter.
Everyone knows there are more killings in Chicago and Detroit than other large cities, but this scourge in comparison has received very little media attention, and certainly less remedial action by politicians and the President.
Second, when the goal of honest journalism is to analyze all of the facts to produce a fair and balanced report,we have in this case instead witnessed the opposite. Furthermore, this case is an example of how reporters fueled the fires, forcing the system to improperly react, resulting in Zimmerman being arrested and having to be jailed for a year while he waited for a trial. Then, the pundits argued the wisdom or lack thereof of the “stand your ground law” and ignored the most elementary rule of law, self-defense.
Lastly, even the judge apparently feared she would be unfairly criticized so defense objections in the Zimmerman trial were overruled and evidence the defense sought to introduce was barred. It appears the judge was overly concerned the media would blame her if there was an acquittal.
In the end, we all lose when our justice  system is manipulated and/or influenced by politics and not objectivity and restraint. Here, the rule of law was sacrificed in order to satisfy political correctness (politics and the media), but it is hoped this case will now have a positive influence so what took place is never repeated.”
Commentary by 
Sam Spital, San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer and Former Deputy Attorney General, State of California Department of Justice. 

Former Marine accused of killing girlfriend in Panama

The disappearance of 42-year-old Yvonne Baldelli took a twist on Thursday when her boyfriend was accused of murdering her, then concocting an elaborate cover-up. He allegedly sent fake emails from her account, telling her family that she was having a great time, and he withdrew money from her bank account.

Brian Brimage, a 37-year-old former Marine, pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and making a false statement to a federal officer.

Our hearts go out to Yvonne’s family during this difficult time.

 

Gun owner charged in accidental shooting death

55-year-old Todd Conrad Francis is being charged with three felony counts: involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and criminal storage of a firearm.

Francis’ 9-year-old daughter was playing with her neighbor Eric Klyaz in the garage on June 4. They were handling Francis’ 9 mm pistol when it apparently went off, killing Klyaz. At the time, the children were being babysat by the girl’s 14-year-old brother.

Francis surrendered at the police headquarters on Tuesday and was released after posting $100,000 bail. He will be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. on June 25 in San Diego Superior Court.

This is a tragic situation, and our hearts go out to the family of all of those involved.

 

4 killed in Orange County shooting spree

A series of shootings across Orange County has left four people, including the gunman, dead. According to this report, the first shooting occurred at Ladera Ranch. It is believed that the shooter killed one person here prior to fleeing in an SUV. The suspect then continued to attempt to carjack at least two vehicles, which resulted in two more deaths. He shot and killed himself shortly after police found him in a stolen vehicle.

 

 

Husband arrested in 2004 Westminster killing (Sam Spital)

COMMENTARY BY SAMUEL SPITAL, CRIMINAL HOMICIDE AND DEFENSE LAWYER

“On February 4, 2013, the Orange County Registrar published a digital article in which a husband was arrested in connection with a cold case investigation for the death of his wife about nine years ago. According to the story, this was a brutal murder in which the wife had her throat slashed and her head was nearly decapitated. All of this happened in the early morning hours when the 17 year old son was tied up and placed in a his bedroom closet by another suspect. It was further revealed that the husband had previously pled guilty to spousal battery and attempting to dissuade a witness (the victim in the current criminal case), then being sentenced to one year in County Jail and formal probation for five years.

Either the author did not interview the investigating officers more thoroughly or the Police and District Attorney declined to provide any further details as to the underlying evidence that led them to arrest the defendant for the vicious killing after so many years had intervened. Defense counsel will undoubtedly perform a painstaking investigation given the substantial intervening period of time from the incident and the current filing of the criminal charges, as well as raise various pre-trial motions and to establish the defense strategy.

It is interesting to note the husband was not arrested after so many years even though the the spouse is generally considered the first and often the primary person of interest in a murder; when this nexus is coupled with the previous conviction for domestic violence along with the type of and manner of killing, there would seem to have been other circumstantial evidence as well to link the husband to the crime even if no eye witness, including but not limited to DNA. However, the spouse may have had an alibi, he may not have used the knife in question and/or his participation in the crime as a co-conspirator could not have previously been established beyond any reasonable doubt. If the defendant does not have the means to retain private counsel, a Deputy Public Defender will be appointed.”

–Sam Spital

Suspect accused of killing California doctor was a patient with an appointment (Sam Spital)

COMMENTARY BY SAM SPITAL, Criminal Defense Lawyer, San Diego:

“The Fox.com news reported on January 30, 2013 that a 52 year old Newport Beach Urologist, Dr. Ronald Gilbert, was shot and killed by a 75 year old patient who had a scheduled appointment and brought a handgun with him into the exam room and fired multiple times. The article noted that the murder suspect had not previously seen Dr. Gilbert, but he had suffered from incontinence after a recent surgery although it was not revealed who performed it.

Two neighbors were interviewed and one said the accused claimed: ‘I had surgery and now I am worse than before the surgery.’ Another neighbor said he declared: ‘he wasn’t going to be around much longer.’ These facts and more may be the basis of the prosecution arguing this was a premeditated murder. The defendant can face life in prison or the death penalty.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty. However, the California Constitution was modified through the voter-initiative process passing Proposition 17, thereby reinstating the death penalty. The statute was subsequently modified making the death penalty mandatory for specified crimes including murder one with special circumstances. Only a voter approved ballot measure can alter this statute, and in 2012 when the California voters had the opportunity to do so with Proposition 34, they rejected doing so by 53%.

At the time of the arraignment, the Defendant told the Superior Court he did not have the financial means to hire a private attorney, and the Judge set the matter over so that a Deputy Public Defender would be appointed on his behalf.”

–Sam Spital

SUSPECT IN SLAYING ARRESTED AFTER HUNT (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Criminal Law Attorney SAM SPITAL:“On January 30, 2013, the UT San Diego electronic edition published an article about a Riverside County 22 year old murder suspect who was arrested the previous day by the San Diego Police. He was identified as Matthew Rowley and reportedly in San Diego. After several hours, the alleged shooter was located with the use of a police helicopter and specially trained dogs who aided in the search; he was then taken into custody for the shooting death of 20 year old Corona resident, Daniel Stordahl.

The staff writer did not include any further information regarding the homicide victim, his family and any possible connection with the murder suspect. In addition, there was nothing further reported regarding the shooter to help determine any possible motive for the killing or surrounding facts and circumstances. It is unfortunate that very little is provided for the reader to have a balanced report rather than a story that simply identifies an event as if nothing more is important.

The role of the defense lawyer at the outset will undoubtedly be to investigate all of the facts in order to develop a plan of action and strategy to represent a client who is charged with murder. One or more private investigators will be employed as well as forensic experts. A Deputy Public Defender at County expense is assigned to a case when an individual does not have or cannot afford a private attorney.”

–Sam Spital

Navy officer murdered in Mission Valley apartment; brother in jail (Sam Spital)

Commentary by San Diego Homicide Defense and Criminal Law Attorney SAM SPITAL:

“On January 29, 2013, the digital edition of CBS Channel 8 news reported the 21 year old brother of the victim who was killed over the past weekend was arrested for first degree murder. Jonathan (Jake) Tenorio was 25 years old and found stabbed to death; he was from Guam and an Officer in the Navy.

Other news sources reported Jonathan was an Ensign who was serving on the San Diego based missile carrier Bunker Hill, was recently married and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate in Annapolis.  The brother who is now a suspect in the killing had just arrived in San Diego from Guam for the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship Trials.

While condolences go out to the family members, there was very little information presented by the author of the news piece about the victim. The story causes one to have mixed feelings in that it strains credulity to believe there could be any justifiable motive and/or possible explanation for a family killing, particularly that involving young, adult siblings. This shocking news, however, tends to point out the escalating life challenges, anxiety and stress that often underlie the increased number of crimes in what otherwise can be considered quiet neighborhoods that in the past have had few homicides if any.

The criminal defense lawyer will likely retain an experienced forensic team as well as private investigators to gather the facts to be in a position to better strategize the steps it will take in the criminal case.”

–Sam Spital

 

Officers Fatally Shoot Pursuit Suspect-The suspect driver allegedly accelerated toward the officers at a dead end (Sam Spital)

Commentary by Sam Spital, Criminal Lawyer- San Diego:

“NBC Channel 39 in its electronic news on January 12, 2012 reported an officer had shot an assailant at about 1:15 a.m. when there was a pursuit of a vehicle driving at an excessive speed that in spite of the police siren and red lights flashing eventually only came to a halt at a dead end street when it made a u-turn. When the officers stopped the vehicle and ordered the occupants to exit the unreported stolen vehicle, they did not do so and instead the car was accelerated towards the officers. Even after the officers admonished the 21 year old female driver to stop, she did not. Fearing their safety, the officers who had been on the police force from 4 to 6 years fired their weapons and the driver was shot and killed in the process.

It would be unreasonable to attribute blame to the officers in such exigent circumstances because enough facts are not known as to whether the officers could have prevented the situation if they had blocked the street to prevent the car from escaping and/or obtained assistance from other patrol cars to do the same. Suffice to say, the reporter did not interview the officers and obtain more information, nor did she contact any of the passengers in the stolen vehicle to develop a more complete account of the events in question.”

–Sam Spital