WASHINGTON — A yearslong legal fight over a deadly shooting of civilians in an Iraq war zone reaches its reckoning point with the sentencing this week of four former Blackwater security guards.
Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough face mandatory, decadeslong sentences because of firearms convictions. A fourth defendant, Nicholas Slatten, faces life in prison after being found guilty of first-degree murder.
At the hearing Monday in U.S. District Court, defense lawyers intend to appeal for mercy by arguing that their clients acted in self-defense during a chaotic firefight in Baghdad. They also plan to argue that sending the defendants to prison for decades would be an unfairly harsh outcome for men who have close family ties and proud military careers, and who were operating in stressful conditions in a war-torn country.
The men were charged in the deaths of 14 Iraqis at a crowded traffic circle in downtown Baghdad, killings that caused an international uproar and became a dark episode of contractor violence during the Iraq war. Defense lawyers argued that the contractors, who arrived there after a car bomb exploded, were targeted with gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police, and shot back in self-defense. Prosecutors contended that there was no incoming fire and that the shooting was unprovoked.
The defendants — who were in Iraq to protect American diplomats — were convicted in October after a trial that stretched months and featured testimony from Iraqi witnesses and from other Blackwater guards who cooperated with the government.