Murder Conviction Overturned in Blackwater Civilian Killings
3 others convicted in 2007 incident ordered to be resentenced
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2017 3:33 PM CDT
Former Blackwater guards Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, and Paul Slough.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – A US appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Blackwater security guard—and called for the resentencing of three others—who killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, the Washington Post reports. Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard, and Evan Liberty were convicted in 2014 for opening fire on a group of Iraqis that included women and children. 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. Slatten was sentenced to life in prison for murder; he was found to have fired the first shots. The other three men were sentenced to 30 years each for manslaughter.

On Friday an appeals court ruled the trial court "abused its discretion" by not letting Slatten have a separate trial from the others as the only guard accused of murder. His conviction has now been overturned, and it's unclear if he'll be retried, with the Justice Department stating it's "reviewing the opinion." In a potential new trial, Slatten could introduce evidence to disprove he fired the first shots, the BBC reports. The appeals court ruled the other three guards must be resentenced because 30 years is too long and constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment." The long sentences were due to convictions for using military firearms to commit a felony. But that charge is usually used against gang members and has never before been used against people who were given military weapons by the government and who used them in a war zone.

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