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USA court upends murder conviction of Blackwater contractor

USA court upends murder conviction of Blackwater contractor”

A federal appeals court judge overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a security contractor involved in the 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nusoor Square at the height of the Iraq War - a deadly encounter that left 17 people dead.

The sentencing enhancement of a 30-year minimum sentence is usually applied to drug crimes involving gang members. The appeals court ruled that he never should have been prosecuted in the same trial as his colleagues, one of whom said he - and not Mr. Slatten - fired the first shots.

On Friday, the federal panel threw out that conviction, saying the trial court should have let Slatten be tried separately from his three co-defendants.

It is unclear if Slatten will be retried.

The judges determined those sentences violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because prosecutors charged them with using military firearms while committing another felony.

"In reaching this conclusion, we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty's actions", said U.S. Circuit Judge Karen L. Henderson, writing for the court.

At Nisour Square, the four guards opened fire on the Iraqis, including women and children, with machine guns and grenade launchers. Blackwater claimed the security guards were under attack, but dozens of witnesses traveled from Iraq to testify the guards fired without provocation, according to CNN.

A heavily armed, four-vehicle Blackwater Worldwide convoy the men were travelling in had been trying to clear a path for U.S. diplomats after a nearby auto bomb.

Prosecutors said the four defendants, among 19 Blackwater guards providing security for State Department officials in Iraq, fired machine guns and grenade launchers in a reckless and out-of-control way after one of them falsely claimed their convoy, called Raven 23, was threatened by a auto bomber.

The defendants were convicted in October 2014.

Dozens of victims and witnesses flew from Iraq to the United States for the trial. That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never been used against overseas security contractors working for the USA government.

The court also threw out one of Liberty's convictions for attempted manslaughter.

The three-judge panel declared the contractors' sentences "grossly disproportionate to their culpability for using government-issued weapons in a war zone".

A former Navy SEAL, its CEO Erik Prince sold off his stake at Blackwater in 2010 following the year-long controversy over the company's operations in Iraq.



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