(CN) – A federal judge allowed the government to present evidence that four former Blackwater security guards bragged about killing Iraqis, fired their weapons indiscriminately and threw objects at civilians prior to killing 14 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007.
Former Blackwater Worldwide security guards Paul Slough, Jeremy Ridgeway, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten were charged with voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations for allegedly opening fire on Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, killing 14 and wounding 20 more.
The government claimed the shooting was unprovoked, but the former guards said insurgents had attacked their unit, Raven 23.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington, D.C., dismissed the indictment based on prosecutorial misconduct in June 2010, but the D.C. Circuit reinstated the case in April 2011.
To avoid any taint on remand, prosecutors brought new charges against four of the guards: Slough, Liberty, Heard and Slatten. The superseding indictment charges the first three with multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and firearms violations. Slatten is charged with murder. Charges against Ball were dropped, however, and Ridgeway is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Wednesday denied the defendants’ motion to exclude testimony purportedly showing that they made violent statements about Iraqis and had a history of firing their weapons absent any perceivable threat.
Within a year of the Nisour Square shooting, Slatten “made statements that he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as ‘payback for 9/11′” and “repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he shot,” according to the government.
It claims Liberty told a teammate to “just shoot at something man,” and called him a “hadji lover” for firing at targets only.
“Taken together, statements as violent and specifically hostile as those alleged would undoubtedly be probative of an intent to kill, with malice aforethought, the Iraqi civilian driving a white Kia in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007,” Lamberth wrote.
The government also sought to present evidence that Slatten, Slough and Liberty fired their weapons indiscriminately from Blackwater armored vehicles that weren’t under attack, demonstrating a “hostility toward Iraqis.”
Lamberth agreed that “intentional indiscriminate shooting by the defendants would evince a mentality of hostility toward and lack of respect for the lives of Iraqi civilians that is probative of the issue of intent for both first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.”
He said the same is true of throwing items at unarmed civilians, as the government claims Slough, Slatten and Liberty did in the year leading up to the shooting.
The government says the former Blackwater guards “routinely threw water bottles and other items at unarmed civilians, vehicles, wagons, and bicycles without justification in an attempt to break automobile windows, injure and harass people, and for sport.”
But Lamberth said prosecutors could not mention that Liberty had been reassigned from his position as a turret gunner to a driver, allegedly due to his overly aggressive behavior, because this evidence is “too attenuated a link to the elements of the present charges.”
In a separate ruling issued Tuesday, Lamberth allowed the government’s chemical witness to testify that the arm injury Heard sustained at Nisour Square could have been caused by his own pen flare, rather than a tracer round as Heard had claimed.
The McLean, Va.-based Blackwater Worldwide was renamed Xe Services in 2009, and is now called Academi.
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