U.S. appeals court throws out Blackwater murder conviction

August 4, 2017, 4:22pm

A Blackwater Worldwide employee convicted of murdering 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007 will have his conviction vacated and be given a new trial, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled Friday. The court threw out a first-degree murder charge handed to the former security contractor, Nicholas Slatten, for allegedly opening fire, unprovoked, on a driver in the streets of Baghdad, leading to a firefight.

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The court also decided that three other former Blackwater contractors involved in the shooting — and who had previously been sentenced to 30 years in prison on manslaughter and firearm charges — would be resentenced.

The court held that “the district court abused its discretion in denying Slatten’s motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants and therefore vacates his conviction and remands for a new trial.”

Two of the judges in the case — Karen LeCraft Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown — wrote that “we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty’s actions. Their poor judgments resulted in the deaths of many innocent people.”

But they did call the contractors’ 30-year sentence a “cruel and unusual punishment,” and urged for a more “nuanced” approach to sentencing, rather than using a “sledgehammer.”

The incident in 2007 widely damaged Blackwater’s reputation and put into question the Pentagon’s oversight of U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also worsened Iraqi sentiment for an already controversial American presence. An unnamed Iraqi official at Iraqi embassy in Washington told the Washington Post Friday that the shootings are “still raw after all these years.”

Paul Dickinson, a lawyer who represented six Iraqi civilians in the case took to Twitter to express his disappointment in the ruling. He described in vivid detail some of the civilians who were killed.

Dickinson also called out Erik Prince, the former owner of Blackwater (and brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos), who has adamantly denied any wrongdoing.