A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] declared a mistrial Monday in a murder case against two Blackwater [JURIST news archive] defense contractors after the jury failed to reach a verdict. The jury notified Judge Robert Doumar Monday morning that they were still split [LAT report] after nine hours of deliberation spread over three days. A new trial [AP/WAVY report] is set for March 1, 2011. Christopher Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Justin Cannon, of Corpus Christi, Texas, are charged with killing two unnamed Afghan civilians in Kabul last year. The defendants argued that they shot at the civilians in self-defense because the civilians' sedan had crashed into another vehicle the defendants were traveling with, flipping it over, and then headed toward them.
In April, federal prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty [JURIST report] against Drotleff and Cannon, but the defendant's could still face life imprisonment. Also in April, a federal grand jury indicted [JURIST report] five former Blackwater executives on charges 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 it 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.