A U.S. appeals court has thrown out the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater Worldwide security guard sentenced to life in prison in the killings of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007. The court ordered resentencings for three others convicted in the incident, the Washington Post reports. The shootings, which also wounded 17 people, fomented deep resentments about the accountability of U.S. security forces during one of the bloodiest periods of the Iraq War.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the trial court “abused its discretion” in not allowing Nicholas Slatten, 33, of Sparta, Tn., to be tried separately from his three co-defendants, even though one of them said he, not Slatten, fired the first shots in the civilian massacre. The court also found that the 30-year terms for Paul Slough, 37, of Keller, Tx.; Evan Liberty, 35, of Rochester, N.H.; and Dustin Heard, 36, of Maryville, Tn. violated the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” They received the enhanced penalty because they were also convicted of using military firearms while committing a felony, a charge that primarily has been aimed at gang members and never before used against security contractors given military weapons by the U.S. government. Dissenting Judge Judith Rogers called the 30-year terms “appropriate” for the crime and noted that other security guards chose not to fire their weapons at all.