Appeals court overturns first-degree murder conviction, says sentences of 3 others unconstitutional

A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater contractor who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killings of at least 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

In its majority opinion, the court also reordered the sentencing of three other individuals related to the Baghdad traffic circle shootings that sparked concern about the accountability of American security personnel operating in Iraq.

The court ruled a lower court "abused its discretion" when it prevented Nicholas Slatten from being tried separately from three other co-defendants, saying it is overturning "his conviction and remands for a new trial".

It is unclear if Slatten will be retried. Bill Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, told Anadolu Agency the attorney's office "is reviewing the opinion and has no further comment at this time.”

The appeals court said the 30-year sentences handed down to Slatten's co-defendants - Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard - amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

The four were working as security contractors in Iraq for the controversial firm Blackwater, which was rebranded as Xe Services amid international uproar over the 2007 Nisour Square massacre of civilians, including women and children. The company was later sold and renamed Academi.

Dissenting from her colleagues on the appropriateness of the 30-year sentences, Judge Judith Rogers wrote: "Although it is possible to imagine circumstances in which a 30-year minimum sentence for a private security guard working in a war zone would approach the outer bounds of constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment, this is not that case.

"The jury rejected these defendants’ claim that they fired in self-defense, and far more of their fellow security guards chose not to fire their weapons at all that day," she said.

The four men were part of a Blackwater convoy tasked with providing security for a U.S. diplomat. One of the group, known as Raven 23, falsely claimed the convoy was under threat from a car bomb, prompting a barrage of indiscriminate gun and grenade fire that led to at least 31 Iraqi civilians being killed or wounded.

Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y, the driver of a white Kia sedan falsely identified as a car bomb threat.

AA