Federal appeals court overturns murder conviction of former Blackwater guard

Blackwater guard's murder conviction tossed; mandatory sentences for others found unconstitutional

The court also ordered new sentences for the three other contractors, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard.

All the men have been challenging their sentencing for years.

The three-judge panel also ordered three of Slatten's former colleagues to be re-sentenced in the prosecution arising from the massacre. On September 16, 2007 they were involved in a shooting that trained strained worldwide relations and drew scrutiny to the role of American contractors in war-torn Iraq.

In deciding to give Slatten a retrial, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded that the "district court abused its discretion" when it denied his request to be tried separately from his former co-workers.

The incident brought anger at US involvement in the Middle East to a head, and many objected to the use of private military contracting in the war zone. Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be reached.

The four blackwater contractors who opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers were charged and convicted in 2014, Reuters reported. His conviction has now been overturned, and it's unclear if he'll be retried, with the Justice Department stating it's "reviewing the opinion". They were all jailed for 30 years.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced the four in April 2015.

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"The jury rejected these defendants' claim that they fired in self-defense, and far more of their fellow security guards chose not to fire their weapons at all that day", she said.

Prosecutors said the four defendants, among 19 Blackwater guards providing security for State Department officials in Iraq, fired machine guns and grenade launchers in a reckless and out-of-control way after one of them falsely claimed their convoy, called Raven 23, was threatened by a auto bomber.

The ruling said that at a retrial Slatten would be able to introduce evidence alleging he did not fire the first shots.

However, Lamberth at the time acknowledged criticism by attorneys for Slough, Liberty and Heard about applying the mandatory 30-year term prosecutors sought for the firearms charge. Guards claimed the convoy was ambushed and they fired in defense of the convoy.

Former Blackwater Worldwide security guard Nick Slatter, (2nd from left) and Donald Ball, (3rd from left) arrive with their lawyers at the U.S. District Court before surrendering to authorities in Salt Lake City, Utah, on December 8, 2008.

Blackwater, which became well-known after the 2007 shooting, was renamed Xe Services in 2009 and Academi in 2011.

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