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Federal appeals court overturns Blackwater murder conviction

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday overturned [opinion, PDF] the murder conviction of a former Blackwater Worldwide security guard and ordered resentencing of three others for the killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007 [NYT report]. Nicholas Slatten, a former Army sniper, was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for firing the first fatal shots. The other three men, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough, were found guilty of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and use of a machine gun in a violent crime and sentenced to 30 years. The appeals court found that the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing Slatten to be tried separately from his co-defendants and also found that the 30-year sentences violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment:

We conclude the mandatory 30-year sentence imposed by Section 924(c) [text] based solely on the type of weapons Slough, Heard and Liberty used during the Nisur Square shooting is grossly disproportionate to their culpability for using government-issued weapons in a war zone. We therefore also conclude these sentences violate the Eighth Amendment and remand for resentencing.
It is unclear whether Slatten will be retried.

Blackwater [JURIST news archive] and its employees have faced legal controversy in recent years for activities during the Iraq war. In 2014 the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries urged [JURIST report] stronger global and regulation of private security companies. The call came on the heels of the guilty verdict [JURIST report] against the four ex-Blackwater security guards. In 2012 Blackwater agreed to settle [JURIST report] federal criminal charges dealing with export and firearm violations. Also in 2012 Blackwater reached a confidential settlement agreement [JURIST report] with survivors and families of victims in the 2007 shooting incident. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.

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