By PETE YOST
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed criminal charges against a former Blackwater security guard whose actions allegedly triggered the shootings of dozens of Iraqi citizens at a traffic circle in Baghdad nearly seven years ago.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed the indictment against Nicholas Slatten after a federal appeals court said the statute of limitations had lapsed before the government filed the charges against Slatten last October. The statute of limitations restricts the time in which legal proceedings may be brought.
The government's lead prosecutor, Anthony Asuncion, said prosecutors might seek to bring new charges against Slatten that could become part of the scheduled June 11 trial of the other three Blackwater guards in the case. A number of federal crimes do not carry a statute of limitations, including murder.
Bringing a murder case would raise the bar on getting a conviction because the government would have to prove that the shootings were premeditated. Slatten had been charged with manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence.
In pretrial preparations, the government has portrayed Slatten as a central figure in the violence on Sept. 16, 2007, that left 14 Iraqi citizens dead and 18 others injured. Prosecutors in a court filing a month ago said evidence at the upcoming trial would show that Slatten fired the first shots at Nisoor Square, initiating the incident by firing his sniper rifle without justification at a driver who was stopped just south of the traffic circle.
Defense attorneys for the Blackwater guards have said their clients were fired upon first and returned fire in an act of self-defense.