A former Blackwater security contractor was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for his role in the 2007 shooting of unarmed civilians in Iraq that left 14 people dead, the AP reports. Federal judge Royce Lamberth issued the sentence after a succession of friends and relatives requested leniency for Nicholas Slatten, who was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury in December. Prosecutors charged that Slatten, 35, was the first to fire shots in the September 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad. In all, 10 men, two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11, were killed. The defense had argued that Slatten and other Blackwater contractors opened fire only after they saw what they mistakenly thought was a potential suicide car bomber moving quickly toward their convoy.
Defense attorney Dane Butswinkas described Slatten as "a person of high integrity" whose family members had served in the US military for four generations. Several of Slatten's supporters openly accused prosecutors of scapegoating an innocent man in order to placate Iraqi public opinion. The shootings strained US-Iraqi relations and focused intense international scrutiny on the extensive use of private military contractors in Iraq. Slatten himself told the judge that he was a victim of an "unjust prosecution" and that government lawyers cared more about producing a conviction than uncovering the truth of what happened in Baghdad 12 years ago. But Judge Lambert, in issuing the life sentence, dismissed much of the family's claims that Slatten was a scapegoat for international political considerations. "The jury got it exactly right," he said. "This was murder." (Could Trump pardon Slatten?)