WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 will remain part of the case.
Prosecutors had initially dismissed charges against Nicholas Slatten but contend he is back in the case now that a federal appeals court has resurrected the prosecution of 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 declare that he's no longer a defendant.
As prosecutors weigh a possible new indictment, the two sides have been arguing for months 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 Urbina, had wrongly interpreted the law.
The court said at the time that Slatten was "out of the case for now" and did not reverse an earlier decision that dropped him as a defendant. Slatten's lawyers contend the ruling left his status in the case unchanged and that he remains out of it.
"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. "He is cognizant of the Court's time and limited resources and sought a solution with the government that would make a decision on this issue necessary only if Mr. Slatten was to be indicted. Unfortunately, the government has refused to provide the Court or Mr. Slatten notice of its decision."
Connolly declined to comment beyond his written motion.