Ex-Blackwater Guards Lose Bid for Evidence
(CN) - The government need not turn over computer files used to simulate a 2007 Blackwater shooting incident in Iraq, nor must it ship 11 damaged vehicles to the United States, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Former Blackwater Worldwide security guards Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten were originally charged with voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations for allegedly opening fire on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing 14 and wounding 20 more.
The government claimed that the shooting was unprovoked, but the former guards said their unit, Raven 23, had been attacked by insurgents.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington, D.C., dismissed the indictment in June 2010 based on prosecutorial misconduct, and the D.C. Circuit reinstated the case in April 2011.
To avoid any taint on remand, prosecutors last October brought new charges against four of the guards: Slough, Slatten, Liberty and Heard. The superseding indictment charges them with multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and firearms violations.
Less than four months before the June 11 trial, the defendants asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is presiding over the new charges, to force the government to hand over certain computer files used to create its computer-generated simulation of the incident.
They also wanted the government to pay more than $1.7 million to have the 11 Raven 23 vehicles damaged in the shooting flown from Iraq to the United States.
Lamberth acknowledged that the Iraqi vehicles "are material to preparing the defense," but said the government was under no obligation to move them.
"An obligation to produce should not be construed as an obligation to transport," he wrote.
He noted that his colleague, Judge Urbina, had declined to order the government to foot the considerably cheaper bill for the defense team's security as it traveled to Iraq to inspect the vehicles.
Lamberth said the government should not be required "to bear the much greater expense of transporting the Iraqi vehicles out of the country."
The government's videotaped recordings and more than 2,000 detailed photographs of the vehicles will have to suffice, he said, "especially in the face of the defendants' inexplicable delay in making this motion."
From the original indictment in December 2008 to the initial dismissal a year later, the defense team never once asked the government to ship the vehicles to the United States, Lamberth noted. And since the case has been reinstated, "the defendants chose not to make any transport request until February 28, 2014," he added.
"By waiting until the eve of the trial to present this motion, the defendants, through their inaction, have effectively caused the potential price for transporting the Iraqi vehicles to the U.S. to rise by more than $1.5 million," Lamberth wrote.
The other option would have been to ship the vehicles on ocean carriers for $190,000, but that method would take at least seven months, according to the government. They wouldn't be here in time for trial.
As for the computer files, Lamberth said the government has already produced the raw data on which the simulation was based, as well as a completed simulation. As a result, the files used to store and organize the original data - known as 3ds Max files - "are not material to preparing the defense," he wrote.
"The 3ds Max files are simply the intermediaries between the required disclosures - the underlying data and the completed CGE (computer-generated evidence)," he explained. "Most importantly, the defendants can populate their own 3ds Max files using the same set of data employed by the government."
The defendants had argued that the intermediary files "could expose flaws in the government's theory or cast serious doubt about the reliability of the government's evidence," if a newer computer simulation differs from the earlier one.
But Lamberth insisted the defendants have all the data they need, and questioned whether they were merely looking for a "shortcut" in preparing their own computer-generated simulation.
Defense contractor Blackwater Worldwide is now called Academi.