WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge declared a mistrial Wednesday after a deadlocked jury said it couldn’t reach a verdict in the retrial of a former Blackwater security guard for a 2007 shooting that killed 14 Iraqi civilians.
Prosecutors accused Nicholas Slatten of being the first of five private security guards to fire automatic weapons and grenades on 31 civilians in a Baghdad’s Nisour Square as the Blackwater tactical team Raven 23 tried to secure an evacuation route for a diplomat following a car bombing.
Slatten, 34, was originally tried alongside three other members of Raven 23, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, who were protecting State Department personnel. While U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Slatten to life in prison for murder, Lamberth sentenced the other three to 30 years and a day for manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.
The D.C. Circuit ordered a retrial for Slatten last year, however, after saying that Slatten should have been allowed to admit testimony from one of his co-defendants, who swore just days after the shooting that he – not Slatten – had fired first.
The D.C. Circuit also set aside the sentences for the other three defendants.
Last Thursday jurors sent a note to Lamberth saying they were unable to reach a unanimous decision in Slatten’s retrial.
“We are at an impass (sic), please advise,” the note said.
The jury deliberated for 16 days.
Slatten’s retrial got underway at the end of June, with prosecutors trying to paint the shooting as unprovoked. Col. David Boslego, one of the first Americans to arrive at the shooting scene, testified on July 2 that he saw no evidence that insurgents attacked the convoy first.
But the defense got a lift from key government witness Jimmy Watson, whose testimony was murky and indecisive more than 10 years after the incident, which sparked international outcry.
Watson was driving the armored vehicle carrying Slatten on the day of the shooting.
Although five years ago Watson testified to a grand jury that Slatten had fired first, on July 19 he was indecisive about that claim.
When prosecutor T. Patrick Martin asked Watson who fired first, Watson said he remembered gunfire going off in the vehicle but didn’t know who fired first.
“I don’t recall. It was chaos, it was nuts,” Watson had said.
The other guards had previously claimed self-defense, saying they received reports of a second car bombing. Watson echoed that sentiment during his July testimony, saying that he perceived a white Kia sedan heading slowly toward the convoy as a threat.
Watson said he had opened fire at the car after hearing a few shots ring out from the armored vehicle he was commanding.
The driver and passenger in the car – a young medical student and his mother – were killed by the gunfire.
Watson said he emptied a couple rounds, or maybe a whole magazine into the driver’s side door of the car — he couldn’t recall which. Watson said he later fired a grenade at the vehicle.
“It stopped. Maybe,” he had testified in July. “It stopped for sure.”
The contradictory statement was emblematic of much of his testimony that day.
As he testified, Watson spoke of the horrors of war and hearing injured U.S. soldiers scream in agony before they died. He described fearing that death was imminent that fateful day, which occurred during one of the bloodiest periods of the Iraq war.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, confirmed that Lamberth declared a mistrial on Wednesday.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the matter and has no further comment at this time,” Miller said in an email.
Attorneys for Slatten did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the matter.