Blackwater Guard Facing Life Over Iraq Massacre Gets Retrial

(Bloomberg) -- A former Blackwater Worldwide Security guard who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 2007 killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square will get a new trial.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday ruled that Judge Royce Lamberth shouldn’t have barred a statement during the 2014 trial from Nicholas Slatten’s co-defendant, who claimed it was he, not Slatten, who fired the first shots on the day of the massacre. Lamberth also should have allowed Slatten to be tried separately from three other former guards, the appeals panel said.

The Nisur Square massacre, as the court termed it, marked a low point in the war in Iraq. It inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad and prompted a U.S. reassessment of its use of private paramilitary forces to maintain order.

The guards, who were hired to protect U.S. State Department personnel, were accused by prosecutors of going on an out-of-control shooting spree, firing recklessly on unarmed civilians, killing 14 and wounding 17. Defense lawyers argued the guards had reason to fear they were under attack and fired in self-defense following a car explosion.

The appeals court also said the mandatory 30-year minimum prison sentences imposed on Slatten’s three co-defendants violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and ordered Lambert to resentence them. Those men, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were convicted of gun charges, manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t immediately reply to an emailed request for comment on the appellate ruling. Blackwater is now Academi LLC.

The case is U.S. v. Slatten, 15-3078, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).