April 10, 2015 / 2:03 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. judge rejects ex-Blackwater guards request to postpone Iraq deaths sentencing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Friday denied a last-minute request by four U.S. former Blackwater guards convicted in the massacre of 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007 to have their sentencing postponed, and said it will go ahead as planned on Monday.

Lawyers for the men on Friday morning filed an emergency motion in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking for more time to seek a new trial, contending that a key witness contradicted himself in evidence that came to light this week.

Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the request and wrote in his court order that the defendants could file a motion for a new trial based on the alleged discrepancies "at a later date."

Last October, a U.S. federal jury convicted Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty of voluntary and attempted manslaughter and Nicholas Slatten of murder in relation to the notorious deaths of Iraqis at a Baghdad traffic circle.

They opened fire on the unarmed Iraqis at Nisur Square, where their heavily armed four-truck Blackwater Worldwide convoy had been trying to clear a path for U.S. diplomats.

The defendants had argued at their trial that they initially opened fire on a car, a white Kia sedan, as they believed it contained a car bomb.

In their emergency motion, the defendants' lawyers said that evidence disclosed Wednesday, as part of the victim impact statements, suggests a key witness directly contradicted the U.S. government's case regarding the shooting of the driver and passenger of the car.

That witness, an Iraqi traffic policeman, said during trial testimony that he had rushed to the car and witnessed the dead driver, who had been shot in the forehead.

But in his victim impact statement, he said he had remained in his police booth, paralyzed by fear, and that the man was still alive during the incident, not killed instantly as previously testified.

In response to the defendants' motion, prosecutors said the witness account of the deaths remained consistent. They noted that he did not view his victim impact statement as an "investigative document" and had attempted to express his feelings and emotions about the shooting, including "imagining himself in the place of certain victims while they were being shot and killed."

Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Ted Botha

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