In America, 'reasonable doubt' still hangs a jury

Monday, September 10, 2018
 | 
J.M. Phelps (OneNewsNow.com)

jury boxFollowing several weeks of painstaking deliberation, the long-awaited retrial for Nicholas Slatten of Blackwater's Raven 23 ended with a deadlocked jury last week. The defense fought fiercely for Slatten's full acquittal of a first-degree murder charge arising from the unfortunate Nisour Square incident of 2007.

Slatten's retrial began on June 18, 2018, culminating with the declaration of a mistrial on September 5, 2018.

Before the second trial could gain momentum for either side, jury selection was delayed with two incredibly shocking revelations. One, summaries of U.S. intelligence showing that the lead Iraqi investigator had suspected ties to insurgency; and two, a written refusal by the father of the driver of the white Kia to testify in Slatten's trial because he had been told by the government that Paul Sough, not Slatten, was responsible for his son's death.

Despite the preponderance of evidence in favor of Slatten and the additional last-minute revelations, charges were not dismissed by the judge, nor was Slatten released into his counsel's custody to fully assist in his own defense.

At the start of the retrial, the government attempted to establish Slatten had fired the first shots and had committed premeditated murder. In fact, the government's entire case hinged on Slatten firing the first shots. However, previous statements – including statements under oath – made by Paul Slough clearly contradicted the government's theory of the case.

Consider this excerpt from a sworn statement by Slough, for example:

"As our motorcade pulled into the intersection I noticed a white four door sedan driving directly at our motorcade from the westbound lane. I and others were yelling, and using hand signals for the car to stop and the driver looked directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade. Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat."

Such statements by Slough were never presented to the jury during Slatten's original trial. Not so with the retrial, which pressed on with a few weeks of witness examination and cross-examination of fellow security contractors and Iraqis who were present in Baghdad. Direct examination from witnesses, including two Iraqi witnesses who saw the first shots being fired; and physical evidence, including a bullet fragment from a weapon type different from Slatten's embedded in the Kia's steering wheel and a hole in the driver's side headrest that a former FBI trajectory expert says could not have been fired from Slatten's position – also confirm Slatten's claim that he was not the shooter.

Furthermore, an unresolved issue for the defense has been the reversal of testimony from one of the Iraqi policemen on the scene the day of the incident. At the first trial, his lengthy testimony involved details of his actions allegedly running back and forth across the northbound lane while dodging incoming fire from the convoy.

Prior to sentencing, however, the same policeman filed a Victim Impact Statement at the request of the prosecutors. The statement detailed an emotionally upset witness, having hid behind his traffic booth and doing nothing – a complete reversal of his trial testimony.

A request to delay sentencing until the witness could be interviewed by the defense counsel was denied based on the prosecutors' representation to the court that they had spoken to the witness in a telephone conversation, in which the witness allegedly reiterated his trial testimony and reportedly claimed his statement was fantasy.

This was an important statement for the defense, because it detailed the policeman's ability to hear the voices of the people in the white Kia. In that case, Slatten would not have been able to shoot the driver while the vehicle was further back in traffic, as the traffic booth was mere feet from the convoy.

During retrial, according to the docket, Slatten subpoenaed the NSA for the recording of the prosecution's phone call with the Iraqi policeman, but the subpoena was suppressed. Notably, at trial, when the policeman again testified, his testimony glaringly omitted the actions he previously claimed.

Withholding of evidence, including a few minutes of drone footage from the scene of the incident, has characterized the government's prosecution as nothing more than a fabrication, according to the defense. During closing arguments, defense attorney Dane Butswinkas stated: "We have a case that is built on guesswork, speculation and conjecture. My kids would call it click bait. The headline looks alluring. It looks good. But when you click on it, there's just nothing there."

"The government's very powerful," he continued. "They have a lot of resources. You heard from a lot of different departments of the FBI. But Nick has something even more powerful. And what he has are the two words that protect us all in our criminal justice system, two words that have held up for over two centuries: reasonable doubt."

On August 6, 2018, the morning session and afternoon session of closing arguments was presented to the jury and Slatten's retrial concluded, and the case was given to the jury to begin deliberation.

After 16 days of deliberation, on September 5, 2018, the jury filed a note, stating "we are unable to reach a unanimous decision." U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth declared a mistrial in the case of United States of America vs. Nicholas Abram Slatten.

Prosecutors must decide whether Slatten will be tried a third time. As of now, he is un-convicted. Slatten remains imprisoned until Friday, September 14, 2018, when the next steps will be determined.

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