WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Blackwater security guard testified Wednesday that he and two colleagues shot their weapons into a car in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, part of a barrage of gunfire that claimed the lives of a mother and her son and led to the shootings of 30 other Iraqis.
In a calm voice, Jeremy Ridgeway told a jury that what started as "just another day at the office" in Baghdad suddenly erupted in fire from automatic weapons aimed at a car moving toward the heavily armored convoy of Blackwater guards.
Ridgeway is the prosecution's chief cooperating witness in the case focusing on the Sept. 16, 2007, shootings. Four Blackwater guard defendants say they were taking incoming gunfire from insurgents and that they fired their weapons in self-defense. Federal prosecutors say the guards were unprovoked.
Ridgeway was part of a Blackwater crew of 19 men who rushed to Nisoor Square to clear a path for another Blackwater convoy carrying a State Department official back to the safety of the Green Zone.
At the Nisoor Square traffic circle, Ridgeway said he saw two of the defendants — Paul Slough and Dustin Heard — fire their weapons into the car carrying the mother and her son.
At one point, the government witness said he heard screaming and saw that the car was on fire and that someone was waving their hands.
"I fired at the hands," Ridgeway said.
Ridgeway, who is expected to undergo tough cross-examination from defense attorneys, said that "I would hope for leniency" when he is sentenced.
"I want to be able to move on with my life," he said. He said he felt remorse, "a lot of guilt" and that "I needed to tell what happened that day." He also said he wanted his wife and children to know that "I did something good after doing something bad, horrible."
"I am mentally prepared to go to prison," said Ridgeway. He has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.
Ridgeway began cooperating with the government in 2009, after two years of what he said had been telling lies to the prosecutors.
He said he decided to "come clean and tell the complete truth. Asked about the lies, Ridgeway said he was talking about "seeing muzzle flashes" — a reference to insurgents and the fact that the defendants are saying they were taking incoming fire.
Slough, Heard and defendant Evan Liberty are charged with voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations that would result in minimum mandatory sentences of 30 years in prison if convicted. A fourth defendant, Nicholas Slatten, is accused of first-degree murder.
The trial has been underway for a month and a half.
Several ex-Blackwater guards who worked with the four defendants have already testified against their former colleagues, but Ridgeway's extensive testimony — which will continue Thursday — is expected to be crucial to prosecutors.