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Blackwater contractors will not face death penalty for 2009 killings: prosecutors

[JURIST] Two Blackwater [JURIST news archive] contractors working for the US Department of Defense [official website] will not face the death penalty for the alleged May 2009 shooting of two Afghans at an intersection in Kabul. Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi and Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach, were arrested in January and charged [JURIST report] with 13 counts related to the shooting, including second-degree murder, attempted murder, and weapons charges. Federal prosecutors told a district court judge in a hearing on Monday that they will not seek the death penalty [Reuters report]. However, if convicted, the men could still face life in prison. The men have pleaded not guilty, and maintain that they fired at the vehicle in self defense, as it sped toward them. The trial is set for September 14.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted [press release] five former Blackwater executives on charges [JURIST report] of weapons violations and lying to criminal investigators. In February, the Iraqi government ordered approximately 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq [JURIST report]. The government was reacting to a US federal court's December decision to dismiss charges against five former Blackwater employees accused of killing 17 innocent Iraqi civilians [JURIST reports] in 2007 because information against the defendants was obtained unconstitutionally. Earlier that month, the New York Times reported that the US Department of Justice [official website] is investigating [JURIST report] Blackwater, now known as Xe, to determine whether the company bribed the Iraqi government to allow Blackwater to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts for the protection of US diplomats expired.

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