Judge overturns murder conviction in '07 Baghdad shooting

Blackwater guard's murder conviction tossed; mandatory sentences for others found unconstitutional

The government described the killings as a one-sided ambush of unarmed civilians, while the defense said the guards opened fire only after a white Kia sedan seen as a potential suicide auto bomb began moving quickly toward their convoy.

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 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".

"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.

The private contractors had opened fire to clear the way for a United States convoy.

"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.

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The American security contractors worked for the Moyock-based company and fired machine guns and launched grenades into a traffic circle in Baghdad. Prosecutors tracked down dozens of Iraqi witnesses and flew them to Washington for the first trial and would probably have to do so again.

The defendants had vowed to appeal what one called a "perversion of justice", saying they fired in self-defense in a war zone and a city that was then one of the world's most unsafe places. That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never before been used against overseas security contractors working for the US government.

All the men have been challenging their sentencing for years. "A court has to recognize the severity of the crimes committed, including the number of victims". They were each found guilty of manslaughter and firearms charges carrying mandatory 30-year terms.

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

Fourteen people died and at least 17 were wounded in the incident in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which strained worldwide relations and drew scrutiny of the role of American contractors in the Iraq war.

The company was later sold and renamed Academi.

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