Third murder trial sought for security guard contractor in 2007 Iraqi civilian massacre

By PAUL DUGGAN | The Washington Post | Published: September 14, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Friday it will continue prosecuting a former security contractor for allegedly killing civilians during the Iraq War despite years of litigation that so far has ended in failure for the government.

The defendant, Nicholas Slatten, an ex-Army sniper who was a civilian security contractor in Iraq, has gone on trial twice on murder charges stemming from a notorious 2007 incident in which guards employed by the Blackwater security company opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square.

After a federal appeals panel threw out guilty verdicts rendered by the jury in Slatten's first trial, and after his second trial ended with a hung jury this month, prosecutors said Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington they plan to pursue a third trial.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth scheduled opening statements for Nov. 5, with jury selection set for late October.

Slatten, now 34, of Sparta, Tennessee, was part of a Blackwater team protecting a convoy of State Department personnel in Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007. He is accused of firing the initial shots that set off a fusillade of machine gun fire and grenade explosions in stopped traffic at Nisour Square, killing or injuring 31 civilians.

For years, the Justice Department had been pursuing criminal accountability for the deadly episode, which sparked international condemnation.

Clad in a dark-blue jail uniform, Slatten, who is being held without bail, sat quietly with his attorneys in Lamberth's courtroom Friday as a prosecutor announced the government's plan for a third trial. Slatten's lawyers declined to comment after the brief court session.

Charges were first brought against six Blackwater employees in 2008.

In 2014, a federal jury in Washington convicted Slatten of murder and also convicted three of his fellow Blackwater guards of 30 counts of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Slatten was sentenced to life in prison while the others were given 30-year terms.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington intervened in the case in August 2017. Beside throwing out Slatten's murder conviction, the panel overturned the 30-year terms given to the other defendants, saying the sentences violated the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Slatten's second trial ended Sept. 5 when jurors said they could not agree on verdicts.

Meanwhile, the other defendants, Paul Slough, 38, of Keller, Texas; Evan Liberty, 36, of Rochester, New Hampshire; and Dustin Heard, 37, of Maryville, Tennessee, are awaiting resentencing hearings in the case.

Iraqi shooting survivors and relatives of victims have testified in U.S. courts over the years, including 30 people in 2014 who represented the largest number of foreign witnesses to have traveled to the United States for a criminal trial, prosecutors said then.

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