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Mistrial for security contractors accused of killing civilians

By the CNN Wire Staff
This vehicle driven by a contractor was hit in Kabul, Afghanistan, in May, leading to a deadly shooting.
This vehicle driven by a contractor was hit in Kabul, Afghanistan, in May, leading to a deadly shooting.
  • NEW: Defense attorney says a retrial is likely
  • Deadlocked jury brings mistrial declaration
  • Two contractors were accused of killing two Afghanistan civilians
  • Defendants worked for a subsidiary of the company formerly called Blackwater

(CNN) -- A federal judge declared a mistrial Monday in the case of two U.S. security contractors accused of killing two Afghanistan civilians.

The jury in the case against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon told Judge Robert Doumar that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

A retrial has been scheduled for March 1, 2011.

Drotleff and Cannon worked as security contractors for a subsidiary of Xe, the military contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.

Each were charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with a May 2009 shooting in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 12-count, 19-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia also included weapons charges against the two men.

Trey Robert Kelleter, the attorney for Drotleff, expressed disappointment with Monday's mistrial declaration in the federal court in Norfolk, Virginia.

"We thought the evidence showed Chris had acted in self defense," Kelleter said. "It is a real hardship on his family."

Kelleter said his client remained in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday. According to Kelleter, a retrial is likely because of the deadlocked jury.

Peter Carr, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, declined to comment.

Both Drotleff and Cannon were in Afghanistan working for the security company Paravant -- a subsidiary of Xe -- to help the U.S. Army train Afghan troops.

Drotleff, Cannon and two other contractors, Steven McClain and Armando Hamid, were driving their interpreters on a busy Kabul street called Jalalabad Road on May 5, 2009, when they said a car slammed into one of their two cars.

The men said they got out to help their colleagues, and the vehicle that had struck the car did a U-turn and headed back at them.

The contractors said they fired at the oncoming vehicle in self-defense.

The incident spotlights the issue of the role and conduct of U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan.

A similar issue arose in Iraq after a September 2007 confrontation involving then-Blackwater contractors that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq's government refused to renew its operating license. The company then changed its name to Xe, and it continues to receive multimillion-dollar contracts in Afghanistan.