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Federal appeals court rejects dismissal of Blackwater prosecutions

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer
  • Four Blackwater guards are charged in the shooting deaths of 14 Iraqis in Baghdad
  • A lower court has dismissed the charges, saying evidence was tainted
  • An appeals panel orders the lower court to reconsider

Washington (CNN) -- A three-judge appeals panel in Washington Friday rejected a lower court opinion dismissing the cases against four Blackwater guards charged in connection with the shooting deaths of 14 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007.

The circuit court panel ordered the lower court to reconsider the case and examine the manslaughter charges against each of the four defendants individually.

The government had previously moved to dismiss charges against a fifth indicted defendant.

In 2008 the Justice Department indicted the Blackwater Worldwide guards, who were hired to defend State Department personnel in Iraq.

The shooting incident at Nisoor Square left up to 17 people dead and more than 20 wounded, and caused a major confrontation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

The charges allege the guards fired a grenade into a girls school, shot an unarmed civilian, and shot bystanders with machine guns

The district court had dismissed the indictments against the guards ruling evidence presented to the grand jury and the decision to prosecute two defendants were tainted by statements stemming from news accounts.

The appeals court said it was sending the case back to the district court "to determine as to each defendant what evidence -- if any -- the government presented against him that was tainted as to him, and in the case of any such presentation whether in light of the entire record the government had shown it to have been harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."

"We're pleased with the ruling and assessing the next steps," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman.

The four remaining defendants in the case are Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Donald Ball.