Judge cautions Blackwater jury on immunity
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Tuesday urged jurors in the criminal case against four Blackwater security guards to proceed with caution when assessing testimony by the defendants' former colleagues given under immunity.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sent the criminal case against four Blackwater guards to the jury, which began deliberations.
Lamberth reminded the jurors that one witness who testified at the trial had been allowed by prosecutors to enter guilty pleas to lesser crimes. The judge said other former Blackwater guards were given limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for their cooperation with the government.
The guards who testified for the prosecution were Jeremy Ridgeway, Adam Frost, Marc Mealy and team leader Jimmy Watson.
Admonitions by judges are standard practice when it comes to witnesses who have made plea deals as Ridgeway did or have received immunity grants as did Frost, Mealy and Watson. Such witnesses can have motives that influence their testimony. In Ridgeway's case, he wants prosecutors to write a letter on his behalf to the judge urging Lamberth to be lenient in his own sentencing.
In his trial testimony, Mealy said he saw Blackwater defendants Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Ridgeway fire their weapons into a white Kia sedan that was rolling toward the Blackwater convoy on Sept. 16, 2007. A woman and her son, who was the driver, were killed in the car.
Prosecutors allowed Ridgeway to plead guilty to two lesser crimes in exchange for testimony against his former colleagues.
Watson said hot brass ammunition casings were raining down on him because Slough was firing his M240 machine gun so rapidly during the shootings.
The testimony of immunized witnesses does not always play to the prosecution and that was the case in the Blackwater trial. Some of Frost's testimony was useful to the defense team.
Frost said he believed the white Kia was a threat to the convoy because it had been moving toward the command truck in the four-vehicle Blackwater convoy.
He also pointed to infiltration by insurgents into the ranks of Iraqi police, a deep concern to the Blackwater guards.
The prosecution maintained there was no gunfire from insurgents in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqis at Nisoor Square.
The criminal case, now complete after 10 weeks of arguments and testimony, involves the deaths of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others.
One of the guards, Nicholas Slatten, faces up to life imprisonment if convicted of first-degree murder. The other three — Slough, Heard and Evan Liberty — face mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years in prison each if convicted on a gun charge and one other felony.