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Blackwater Guards Found Guilty         10/22 12:04

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal jury returned guilty verdicts for all four 
former Blackwater security guards charged in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 
Iraqis in Baghdad.

   The jury in Washington found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder, 
and the three other three guards -- Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard 
-- guilty of at least three counts of voluntary manslaughter.

   The four men were charged with a combined 33 counts in the shootings, but 
the jury had reached verdicts on only part of the charges after weeks of 
deliberations. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth allowed the jury to 
announce the verdicts agreed upon, with the expectation jurors would continue 
deliberating on the other counts.

   The shootings on Sept. 16, 2007, caused an international uproar over the 
role of defense contractors in urban warfare.

   The State Department hired Blackwater to protect American diplomats in 
Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and elsewhere in the country. Blackwater convoys of 
four heavily armored vehicles operated in risky environments where car bombs 
and attacks by insurgents were common.

   Slatter was charged with first-degree murder; the others were charged with 
voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges.

   The case was mired in legal battles for years, making it uncertain whether 
the defendants would ever be tried.

   The trial focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 
others. During an 11-week trial, prosecutors summoned 72 witnesses, including 
Iraqi victims, their families and former colleagues of the defendant Blackwater 
guards.

   There was sharp disagreement over the facts in the case.

   The defendants' lawyers said there was strong evidence the guards were 
targeted with gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police, leading the guards to 
shoot back in self-defense. Federal prosecutors said there was no incoming 
gunfire and that the shootings by the guards were unprovoked.

   The prosecution focused on the defendants' intent, contending that some of 
the Blackwater guards harbored a low regard and deep hostility toward Iraqi 
civilians.

   The guards, the prosecution said, held "a grave indifference" to the death 
and injury that their actions probably would cause Iraqis. Several former 
Blackwater guards testified that they had been generally distrustful of Iraqis, 
based on experience the guards said they had had in being led into ambushes.

   Prosecutors said that from a vantage point inside his convoy's command 
vehicle, Slatten aimed his SR-25 sniper rifle through a gun portal, killing the 
driver of a stopped white Kia sedan, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y.

   At the trial, two Iraqi traffic officers and one of the shooting victims 
testified the car was stopped at the time the shots were fired. The assertion 
that the car was stopped supported the prosecution argument that the shots were 
unwarranted.

   Defense lawyers pressed their argument that other Blackwater guards --- not 
Slatten --- fired the first shots at the Kia sedan and that they did so only 
after the vehicle moved slowly toward the convoy, posing what appeared to be a 
threat to the Blackwater guards' safety.

   Once the shooting started, hundreds of Iraqi citizens ran for their lives.

   It was "gunfire coming from the left, gunfire coming from the right," 
prosecutor Anthony Asuncion told the jury in closing arguments.

   One of the government witnesses in the case, Blackwater guard Jeremy 
Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to killing the driver's mother, who died in the 
passenger seat of the white Kia next to her son.

   The maximum sentence for conviction of first-degree murder is life 
imprisonment. The gun charges carry mandatory minimum prison terms of 30 years. 
The maximum prison term for involuntary manslaughter is eight years; for 
attempted manslaughter it is seven years.


(KA)


 
 
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