No Vindictive Prosecution in Blackwater Murder Charges

     (CN) – The government was not “toying” with a former Blackwater security guard by indicting him for the murder of an Iraqi civilian when the statute of limitations ran out on manslaughter charges, a federal judge ruled.
     Former Blackwater Worldwide security guards Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard 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 insurgents had attacked their unit, Raven 23.
     U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington, D.C., dismissed the indictment in June 2010 based on prosecutorial misconduct, 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, Slatten, Liberty and Heard. The superseding indictment charges them with multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and firearms violations. Charges against a fifth Raven 23 teammate, Donald Ball, were dismissed. Jeremy Ridgeway, yet another guard initially charged in 2008, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
     The new charges against Slatten were found untimely, however, and he alone was subsequently indicted for first-degree murder for killing Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y.
     One week later, prosecutors offered to dismiss the first-degree murder charge and prosecute him for the lesser charge of manslaughter, if Slatten would waive the statute-of-limitations defense.
     Slatten then moved to dismiss the indictment for vindictive prosecution, but U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied the request Thursday.
     “It is true that the government’s failure to reindict Slatten before the running of the limitations period produced a need for this increased charge,” Lamberth wrote. “Yet government oversight, without more, does not ‘give rise to a suspicion that the government discriminated among the defendants on the basis of their divergent decisions whether to exercise their [legal rights].”
     There is no evidence the government chose to indict Slatten for murder in response to his writ of mandamus petition, the 12-page opinion states.
     And “the government’s proposal to reduce the increased charge in exchange for a waiver of Slatten’s statute of limitations defense is an acceptable pretrial negotiation offer,” Lamberth added. “The government was not toying with Slatten by reindicting him for murder in the first degree, since that was the government’s only option for keeping Slatten in the case at all.”

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