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Ex-Blackwater Contractor sentenced to life in Iraq Shootings

WASHINGTON (AP) – A former Blackwater security contractor was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the shooting of unarmed civilians in Iraq that left 14 people dead.

Federal Judge Royce Lamberth issued the sentence after a legacy of friends and relatives demanded the favor of Nicholas Slatten, who was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury in December.

Prosecutors charged that Slatten, in Sparta, Tennessee, was the first to fire shots at the September 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad. In total, ten men, two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11, were killed. .

Defense attorney Dane Butswinkas described Slatten as "a person of high integrity" whose family members had served in the U.S. military for four generations.

Several of the Slatt's supporters openly accused the prosecutor of synthesizing an innocent man for placing Iraqi opinion. The shootings strained US-Iraq relations and focused intensive international scrutiny of the widespread use of private military contractors in Iraq.

In 201

4, a jury sentenced Slatten and three other contractors – Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty and Dustin Laurent Heard – who were part of a four-vehicle convoy protecting the staff of the state department in the area. An appeals court reversed this conviction, saying that Slatten should have been tried separately from the other three men.

Slatten tried last summer, but a trial was declared after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict. A subsequent jury convicted him of murder in December 2018.

Slatten's father, Darrell, paused as he spoke to the judge to speak directly to his son, who was largely impassive in a beige prison jacket.

"Nick, please thank my apologies for what your country has done to you," he said. "We will fight until hell freezes to correct this justice."

Slatten himself told the judge that he was a victim of an "unfair prosecution" and that the government lawyers cared more about getting a conviction than revealing the truth about what happened in Baghdad 12 years ago.

"This is a miscarriage of justice and it will not stand," he said.

But Judge Lambert, when he issued a life sentence, dismissed much of the family's claims that Slatten was a scapegoat for international political considerations.

"The jury got it just right," he said. "This was murder."

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