The U.S. Justice Department asked a full federal appeals court Monday to review a decision to throw out the first-degree murder conviction of one former Blackwater Worldwide security guard and the sentences of three others in shootings that killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall approved the decision, which was expected and filed by appeals lawyers for the department’s criminal division, to seek a full court review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, after a three-judge panel ruled Aug. 4.
The panel said a trial court “abused its discretion” in not allowing Nicholas A. Slatten, 33, of Sparta, Tennessee, to be tried separately from his three co-defendants in 2014 even though one of them said he, not Slatten, fired the first shots in the massacre. Slatten was convicted of murder
By a separate, 2-to-1 vote, the panel also found that the 30-year terms of the others convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter – Paul A. Slough, 37, of Keller, Texas; Evan S. Liberty, 35, of Rochester, New Hampshire; and Dustin Heard, 36, of Maryville, Tennessee – 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 been used against security contractors given military weapons by the U.S. government.
The Justice Department filing called the panel’s sentencing finding “as wrong as it is unprecedented,” saying the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld longer sentences for lesser crimes.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Spencer S. Hsu