Blackwater guard gets murder conviction tossed in Iraq massacre

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

They were all jailed for 30 years.

In a split ruling, the court also found the 30-year terms of the three others who had been convicted of manslaughter - Paul Slough, 37, of Keller, Tex.; Evan Liberty, 34, of Rochester, N.H. and Dustin Heard, 35, of Maryville, Tenn. - violated the constitutional prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment", the paper reported. Slatten, who was serving a life sentence, had filed an appeal asking the court to sentence him separately from his three co-defendants because he was the only one facing a murder charge for firing what prosecutors said were the first shots in the massacre.

It could not immediately be determined if Slatten would be retried.

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

"In reaching this conclusion, we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty's actions", said the U.S. circuit Judge Karen L Henderson, writing for the court.

Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough worked as security guards for Blackwater, a private security firm under contract with the State Department, in Iraq.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced the four in April 2015. Blackwater claimed the security guards were under attack, but dozens of witnesses traveled from Iraq to testify the guards fired without provocation, according to CNN.

The four men were part of a Blackwater security team that carried the code name Raven 23.

The American security contractors worked for the Moyock-based company and fired machine guns and launched grenades into a traffic circle in Baghdad. But that charge is usually used against gang members and has never before been used against people who were given military weapons by the government and who used them in a war zone.

Lamberth sentenced the three men to time served on their other convictions for manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, as defense attorneys sought, but did so saying he expected he could resentence them if the firearms enhancement was reversed.

The incident sparked an worldwide debate about the role of private security companies hired by the U.S. government to work in war zones.

A former Navy SEAL, its CEO Erik Prince sold off his stake at Blackwater in 2010 following the year-long controversy over the company's operations in Iraq.

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