US court upends murder conviction of Blackwater contractor – News – recordnet.com – California News

US court upends murder conviction of Blackwater contractor – News – recordnet.com – California News

A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater security contractor, ordering a new trial for the man prosecutors say fired the first shots in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad.

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater security contractor, ordering a new trial for the man prosecutors say fired the first shots in the 2007 slayings of 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad.

In a split opinion, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit ruled a lower court erred by not allowing Nicholas Slatten to be tried separately from his three co-defendants in 2014. The 33-year-old contractor from Tennessee is serving a life sentence for his role in the killings, which strained international relations and drew intense scrutiny of the role of American contractors in the Iraq War.

The court also ordered new sentences for the three other contractors, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. They were each found guilty of manslaughter and firearms charges carrying mandatory 30-year terms.

The judges determined those sentences violated the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment because prosecutors charged them with using military firearms while committing another felony. That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never before been used against overseas security contractors working for the U.S. government.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in…

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