Federal court overturns former Blackwater guard's murder conviction

Aug 05, 2017, 00:26
Federal court overturns former Blackwater guard's murder conviction

A federal appeals court judge overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a security contractor involved in the 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nusoor Square at the height of the Iraq War - a deadly encounter that left 17 people dead.

The court said Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, who were all convicted of manslaughter and other offences over their respective roles in the incident, should be re-sentenced because their 30-year prison terms were too long.

Slatten received a life sentence for murder while the other three were jailed for multiple counts of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using firearms while committing a felony.

Retrying Mr. Slatten will not be easy.

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Dissenting from her colleagues on the appropriateness of the 30-year sentences, Judge Judith Rogers wrote: "Although it is possible to imagine circumstances in which a 30-year minimum sentence for a private security guard working in a war zone would approach the outer bounds of constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment, this is not that case. The Court therefore remands for the resentencing of Slough, Liberty and Heard", the ruling said.

The government described the killings as a one-sided ambush of unarmed civilians, while the defense said the guards opened fire only after a white Kia sedan seen as a potential suicide auto bomb began moving quickly toward their convoy. But instead of using a "sledgehammer", they said the sentencing judge - U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District - should instead tailor more "nuanced" penalties based on each defendant's wrongdoing.

The guards said that they acted in self-defense after coming under AK-47 gunfire as they cleared a path back to the nearby Green Zone for another Blackwater team that was evacuating a USA official from a nearby vehicle bombing.

The men claimed they were under fire from insurgents.

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Prosecutors accused the men of illegally unleashed "powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children". That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never been used against overseas security contractors working for the United States government.

By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel did just that Friday, finding prosecutors misapplied a law that Congress originally aimed at violent drug traffickers to US contractors with no prior criminal record, resulting in a punishment "grossly disproportionate to their culpability for using government-issued weapons in a war zone".

The private military company Blackwater, founded in 1997, was later sold and rebranded as Academi.

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