Ex-Blackwater contractor found guilty in 2007 Iraq shooting

By MICHAEL BALSAMOFeaturesAssociated Press

A former Blackwater security contractor was convicted Wednesday of murder at his third trial in the 2007 shooting of unarmed civilians in Iraq.

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Nicholas Slatten, 35, of Sparta, Tennessee, was found guilty of first-degree murder in Washington for his role in the shooting, which strained international relations and drew intense scrutiny of the role of American contractors in the Iraq War.

Prosecutors charged that Slatten was the first to fire shots in the September 2007 massacre that killed 14 Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad. They alleged that Slatten was unprovoked when he opened fire, first killing 19-year-old Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y, who was driving his mother to an appointment, prosecutors said.

In all, 10 men, two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11, were killed. Eighteen others were injured.

The defense has argued that Slatten and other Blackwater contractors opened fire only after Al Rubia'y's sedan, seen as a potential suicide car bomb, began moving quickly toward their convoy. After the shooting stopped, no evidence of a bomb was found.

In 2014, a jury convicted Slatten and three other contractors — Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty and Dustin Laurent Heard— who were part of a four-vehicle convoy that was protecting State Department personnel in the area. An appeals court had overturned that conviction, saying he should have been tried separately from three other men.

Slatten was retried last summer, but a mistrial was declared after the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.

The appeals court had ordered that Slatten's co-defendants be resentenced, and Slough, Liberty and Heard all remain in custody and are awaiting resentencing, prosecutors said. Slatten's sentencing date has not yet been set.