- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal jury reached a verdict Wednesday in the case of four former Blackwater security guards on trial in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqi citizens in the heart of Baghdad. The verdicts were to be read during a late-morning court session.

The Sept. 16, 2007 shootings triggered an international uproar over the role of defense contractors in urban warfare. Blackwater had been hired by the State Department to protect American diplomats in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. Blackwater convoys of four heavily armored vehicles operated in risky environments where car bombs and attacks by insurgents were commonplace.

One former Blackwater guard faced a first-degree murder charge. Three others were charged with voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. They also faced gun charges.

The case was mired in legal battles for years, making it uncertain whether the defendants would ever be tried. The trial focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others. During an 11-week trial, prosecutors summoned 72 witnesses - including Iraqi victims, their families and former colleagues of the defendant Blackwater guards.

There was sharp disagreement over the alleged facts in the case. The defendants’ lawyers said there was strong evidence that the guards were targeted with incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police, prompting the guards to return fire in self-defense. Federal prosecutors said there was no incoming gunfire and that the shootings were unprovoked.

The prosecution focused on the defendants’ intent, declaring that some of the Blackwater guards harbored a low regard and deep hostility toward the Iraqi civilian population. The guards, the prosecution said, held “a grave indifference” to the death and injury their’ actions would likely cause Iraqis. Several former Blackwater guards testified that they too had been distrustful of Iraqis generally, based on experience the guards said they’d had in being led into ambushes.

The maximum sentence for conviction of first-degree murder is life imprisonment. The gun charges carry mandatory minimum prison terms of 30 years. The maximum prison term for involuntary manslaughter is eight years; and for attempted manslaughter it is seven years.

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