SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards made their first court appearance on Monday, after surrendering to authorities in Utah. Defense attorneys argued that the indicted ex-guards should be allowed to carry occupational and recreational firearms, and were entitled to a probable-cause hearing.
Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Donald Ball are accused of killing 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 20 others on Sept. 16, 2007, at Nisure Square in Baghdad.
Last week, a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted the men on 35 counts each of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons violations. The sealed indictment was opened yesterday when the five men turned themselves in to U.S. Marshals in Salt Lake City. Only one of the men, Donald Ball, is a resident of Utah.
A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of attempting to commit manslaughter. He has also made a factual proffer that says the defendants continued to shoot people after any perceived threat had ceased.
The defense team, led by attorney Paul Cassell, urged the court to hold a probable-cause hearing in Utah. However, U.S. Magistrate Paul Warner said the indictment was enough to establish probable cause.
The charges were filed under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 (MEJA). The defendants are free pending a hearing next month in Washington, D.C.
As part of the terms of their release, Warner required the men to turn over their passports to Utah authorities and to surrender their weapons. Three of the men are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s a good idea for them not to possess firearms,” Warner said.
Defense attorneys for Ball argued that he needed access to a service weapon to complete police academy training this month.
Attorneys for Slatten and Heard, who are avid hunters, argued for their clients to have access to their rifles for recreation.
“Is that huntin’ without the ‘g’?” Warner joked, adding that the hunting issue could be argued separately. “I need to have a little more comfort level on this,” he said.
A pretrial hearing is set for Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Defense attorneys want the case returned to Utah.