A federal appeals court has thrown out the murder conviction of an ex-Blackwater security guard and ordered three others to be re-sentenced in connection with the 2007 massacre of 14 unarmed civilians in Iraq. The high-profile incident called into question the role played by U.S. security contractors in Iraq.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered a new trial for Nicholas Slatten, who was convicted in 2014 of first-degree murder in a trial in which families of the victims testified. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
The appeals court said Slatten should have been tried separately from the other three and that a new trial would allow him to introduce evidence that he wasn’t the first to open fire, Reuters reports.
Separately, the court also ordered the re-sentencing of Slatten’s former Blackwater colleagues, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, who had each been serving 30 years on manslaughter charges.
On Sept. 16, 2007, the guards opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing the 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 17 others.
Prosecutors have described the episode as an ambush of innocent civilians; however, defense attorneys said the killings occurred as the Blackwater guards returned fire from Iraqi insurgents.
At the time, Blackwater Worldwide was a leading contractor for the U.S. State Department in Iraq.
The latest ruling by the appeals court adds another twist in what has become a protracted and meandering legal saga.
The four were originally charged in 2008, but the case was thrown out after prosecutors relied on statements that the guards gave believing they would not be used in court.
A federal appeals court revived the case in 2013, and the four men were convicted by a jury the following year.
In the wake of the shootings, Blackwater Worldwide — whose founder and former CEO Erik Prince is the brother of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos changed its name to Xe Services and later to Academi.
The Military Times reported Thursday that Prince has submitted a proposal to the Afghan government to bolster the country’s air war against the Taliban by providing it with private combat air wing.