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Blackwater defendant seeks ruling on status

Sep. 3, 2013 - 05:47PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — A former Blackwater Worldwide security contractor charged after a deadly shooting in a Baghdad public square is asking a judge to rule soon on whether he remains part of the case.

Prosecutors initially dismissed charges against Nicholas Slatten but contend that he is back in the case again now that a federal appeals court has resurrected the prosecution against four other guards charged in the 2007 shooting, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians.

Slatten’s lawyers disagree, and have asked a judge to step in and rule that he’s no longer a defendant. The court said Slatten was “out of the case for now” and did not reverse an earlier decision to drop charges against him.

As a grand jury weighs a possible new indictment, both sides have been arguing over Slatten’s status in the case.

“Given the amount of time that has passed, Mr. Slatten respectfully requests that the court decide this issue,” defense lawyers wrote in court papers dated Friday. “Mr. Slatten has been in legal limbo given the government’s strained interpretation of the D.C. Circuit’s decision and seeks to have the cloud of this clearly defective indictment, as even the government conceded, removed.”

Prosecutors said in a response filed Tuesday that they would defer to the judge on the timing of deciding the issue.

The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting occurred when Blackwater security contractors guarding U.S. diplomats opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdad intersection. Prosecutors said the gunfire was unprovoked, though the company — which has changed its names multiple times since the shooting — has said the guards were responding to an ambush by insurgents.

Prosecutors agreed in 2009 to dismiss the case against Slatten, a former U.S. Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn., after defense lawyers raised concerns about tainted evidence presented to the grand jury. A federal judge then dismissed all five defendants after ruling that the U.S. Justice Department mishandled evidence and violated the guards’ constitutional rights.

A federal appeals court in 2011 revived the case, ruling that the judge, Ricardo Urbino, had wrongly interpreted the law.

Slatten’s lawyers contend that the appeals court ruling left unchanged his status in the case and means that he’s no longer a defendant.

“Mr. Slatten has attempted in good faith to find an efficient and timely way to have the dispute over his status resolved,” his lawyers, Thomas Connolly and Steven Fredley, wrote in last week’s court filing.

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