US court upends murder conviction
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a former Blackwater security contractor’s first-degree murder conviction, ordering a new trial for the man prosecutors say fired the first shots in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad.
In a split opinion, the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit ruled a lower court erred by not allowing Nicholas Slatten to be tried separately from his three co-defendants in 2014. The 33-year-old contractor from Tennessee is serving a life sentence for his role in the killings, which strained international relations and put intense scrutiny on the role of American contractors in Iraq.
The court also ordered new sentences for the three other contractors, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. They were each found guilty of manslaughter and firearms charges carrying mandatory 30year terms.
The judges determined those sentences violated the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment because prosecutors charged them with using military firearms while committing another felony. That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never before been used against overseas security contractors working for the US government.