nsucurrent.com March 24, 2018

Court overturns murder conviction over juror wrongdoing

05 August 2017, 12:27 | Colleen Roy

Blackwater guard's murder conviction tossed; mandatory sentences for others found unconstitutional

Blackwater Worldwide security guards Evan Liberty left and Dustin Heard right were convicted of manslaughter in 2014 in the 2007 shooting deaths of Iraqi citizens in Baghdad. On Friday Aug. 4

The incident brought anger at USA involvement in the Middle East to a head, and many objected to the use of private military contracting in the war zone.

Three former colleagues at the private military company who were convicted in the same incident - each earning 30-year sentences - will also be resentenced by an order of the court. Slatten had been sentenced to life in prison.

On Friday, the federal panel threw out that conviction, saying the trial court should have let Slatten be tried separately from his three co-defendants.

"The court concludes that the imposition of the mandatory thirty-year minimum... violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment...."

A spokesman for the USA attorney's office in Washington said prosecutors were still reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

By overturning his conviction, the court has forced the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute again.

It is unclear if Slatten will be retried.

He had faced manslaughter charges, but prosecutors missed a filing deadline in his case and inadvertently let the statute of limitations expire, leaving them with the choice of prosecuting him for murder or dropping the charges.

In overturning the 30-year terms, USA circuit judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown wrote "we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty's actions".

On Sept. 16, 2007, the guards opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing the 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 17 others. "Their poor judgments resulted in the deaths of many innocent people".

The four men were convicted in October 2014. Blackwater claimed the security guards were under attack, but dozens of witnesses traveled from Iraq to testify the guards fired without provocation, according to CNN.

Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough worked as security guards for Blackwater, a private security firm under contract with the State Department, in Iraq.

Lamberth commended the US government for "finding and exposing the truth of what happened" after a long and troubled prosecution, saying, it entrusts contractors with deadly weapons and trains them to use them only when necessary and justified by the circumstances.

A former Navy SEAL, its CEO Erik Prince sold off his stake at Blackwater in 2010 following the year-long controversy over the company's operations in Iraq.

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