As of today, Nick Slatten’s third jury has deliberated for three-and-a-half days. Why is it taking so long?
THE PRIOR TRIALS
To briefly recap for those unfamiliar with the case, Nick is a decorated combat veteran and former Department of State contractor. He is charged with the premeditated first-degree murder of the driver of a white Kia during a 2007 war-zone engagement that occurred while Nick was contracting for the Department of State, working on a Blackwater tactical support team called Raven 23. During the event in question, Raven 23 was responding to a car-bomb attack on another convoy protecting a diplomat in Baghdad’s red zone. This is Nick’s third trial, his second in 2018.
The first trial, which was held in 2014, resulted in Nick’s wrongful conviction, which was ultimately overturned because evidence of Nick’s innocence (i.e., that someone else confessed multiple times to killing the Kia’s driver) was hidden from Nick’s jury. The first trial also resulted in the wrongful convictions of three other members of Raven 23, decorated veterans Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard, as the jury was also denied key evidence of their innocence. One of Evan’s convictions has been overturned, and all three of their sentences have been overturned. Dustin, Paul, and Evan have been awaiting resentencing for over a year, and we are hopeful that revelations of withheld evidence and additional rights violations during Nick’s trials this year will eventually lead to ALL of their convictions being overturned.
Nick’s second trial, which was held earlier this year, resulted in a hung jury. (You can read more background about Nick’s case HERE.)
THE THIRD TRIAL
Opening statements in Nick’s third trial were November 5, 2018, closing statements were December 11th, and the jury got the case for deliberation at approximately lunchtime on December 12th. The jury is (supposedly) not aware of the prior proceedings against Nick, nor is it aware of the vindictive charging decision that led to those proceedings (you can read more about that HERE). Dozens of witnesses testified during the third trial, and even more exhibits were entered into evidence. While it is impossible to know what is happening in the jury room, we are confident that, after this amount of time, the jury is reviewing the evidence, rather than rushing to judgment one way or the other, consistent with the oath each juror took. So, for that, we are thankful.
It is too early to tell if the jury is hung or still reviewing the evidence, and as of today, there have not been any notes or questions from the jury. While we are hopeful for a verdict this week, the jury has been told to deliberate at its own pace. However long it takes, we are keeping the faith that the jurors will uphold their oaths to look for reasonable doubt. Because Nick is innocent, reasonable doubt is not hard to find in this case, and there are several key developments between the second and third trials that keep us keeping the faith that this time the outcome will be the full acquittal justice requires.
A KEY DIFFERENCE
For example, in a key development that will hopefully aid the jury in seeing the case through the proper lens of the jury instructions, unlike prior juries, the third jury has been instructed that the use of force rules/rules of engagement that generally applied to DOS contractors such as Blackwater operating in a war zone are NOT relevant to the charge against Nick and CANNOT be used as evidence in relation to Nick’s charge.
Apparently there was some confusion about use of force/rules of engagement during the second trial that may have improperly impacted deliberations. Given that the trial judge repeatedly—and improperly—allows Nick’s juries to hear about alleged excessive use of force/departures from the rules of engagement and alleged crimes committed by others that have nothing to do with Nick or what happened to the Kia’s driver, we were not surprised to learn that this appears to have played a role in the second jury’s inability to reach a verdict. Of course, during the first trial, Nick was tried jointly, so irrelevant evidence about use of force during the incident as a whole—in addition to the jury’s not hearing evidence of Nick’s innocence—may have also played a role in his wrongful conviction, although there is no way to know for sure because juror interviews were not permitted following the first trial.
For now, we are just thankful that the trial judge at least took some action that will hopefully prevent the third jury from going down the use-of-force rabbit trail, and we are hoping that will open the jury’s eyes to the government’s false narrative.
EXPOSING THE LIE
The government’s (false) theory of the case is that Nick shot first and killed the Kia’s driver without provocation. Nick’s third trial is also different from prior trials, in that the government acknowledged during opening statements that its entire case depends on the testimony of two people: Jimmy Watson and Matthew Murphy, and not on what these men saw, but on what they say they HEARD.
However, during the third trial, it became clear that Jimmy Watson never actually said that he heard what the government told the jury Watson said he heard. Specifically, Watson never said Nick shot first. Watson has always said that there were gunshots before he heard Nick fire—which is completely contrary to the government’s theory of the case. And Watson also confirmed that he was under the influence of narcotics and experiencing mental health issues at the time of his grand jury testimony, which was given six years after the incident and is the testimony from which the government is cherry picking statements out of context. Watson made it clear during this trial that he was not certain about the sequence of events and was simply doing his best to remember when he testified before the grand jury all those years later. And, again, even in the sequence of events Watson gave the grand jury, the first shots were not Nick’s.
It also seemed clear during the third trial that, while Matthew Murphy is now saying that he believes he heard an SR-25 (Nick’s weapon type) fire first, Murphy’s current testimony is a complete 180 from what he previously said. Originally, Murphy said he believed that the first sounds he heard during the incident were pen flares. (The government acknowledges pen flares were fired during the incident.) Then, during the investigation that followed, Murphy learned that Nick said he had fired at an armed insurgent who had been firing at the convoy (NOT the Kia’s driver). Because Murphy only learned that Nick had fired his weapon at all as a result of government improprieties during the investigation, during the 2014 joint trial, Murphy was prohibited from testifying about what he thinks the sounds he heard were. But with its case against Nick falling apart because Watson hadn’t actually ever said what the government represented that Watson said, the government convinced the trial court to allow Murphy’s tainted testimony. So, the jury heard Murphy say that he believes the first shots he heard were from an SR-25 and that he just didn’t recognize the sound at first because he’d never heard an SR-25 fired from inside a vehicle before. Of course, extensive cross-examination pointing out all the problems with this account and Murphy’s prior, inconsistent statements followed, including that Murphy—on whose “expertise” about SR-25’s the government is asking the jury to rely—has never even fired an SR-25 and has only ever heard an SR-25 fired on one prior occasion that he could recall.
Although whether to credit Murphy’s testimony or not is up to the jury, there are many constitutional problems with allowing Murphy’s tainted testimony to even reach the jury. Perhaps worst of all—regardless of what Murphy may actually believe he heard—the jury has been denied evidence that Murphy’s belief simply does not match reality. Testing has been performed by experts firing an SR-25 both outside and inside a vehicle based on the location of vehicles the government has alleged and the ear protection Murphy was wearing. These tests reveal NO AUDIBLE difference based on an SR-25 fired outside versus inside the vehicle and, thus, would have been key to destroying Murphy’s account of what he now says he believes he heard. Unfortunately for Nick, the trial judge prohibited the defense from introducing this evidence.
Even worse, the judge refused to declare a mistrial when Murphy testified that Nick might have used a suppressor and that could have accounted for the difference in the sound. Murphy had previously told the government that the sounds he heard didn’t sound suppressed. Also, Nick wasn’t using a suppressor, the government knows that, and has never alleged that he was. But the government still elicited testimony from Murphy about a suppressor that it knows is false. Even worse still, when called out by the defense, the prosecutor misrepresented key facts about this issue to the judge, and, later, after being caught in his lie, admitted the misrepresentation. Rather than throw out the case entirely, the trial court gave the jury a curative instruction that probably drew even more attention to Murphy’s improper, false testimony about the suppressor. All we can do for now is hope that the jury follows the trial court’s instruction, accepts that Nick was not using a suppressor, and sees Murphy’s testimony as not credible or, at the very least, irreconcilable with voluminous other evidence of Nick’s innocence and the truth of what really happened to the Kia’s driver (see below).
To summarize, the government’s entire case against Nick boils down to cherry-picked testimony from Watson and changed testimony from Murphy, both of whom were EAR witnesses trying to recreate the first sounds during a noisy war-zone engagement in which they were wearing ear protection.
TELLING THE TRUTH
Against the government’s false narrative, here are just SOME examples of the evidence from the third trial that prove Nick’s innocence and provide the reasonable doubt that requires his acquittal:
Immediately following the incident, and in the few days after, Paul Slough (the turret gunner on top of Nick’s vehicle) confessed multiple times—including under oath—to shooting and killing the Kia’s driver.
Multiple witnesses, both Iraqi and American, saw Paul shoot and kill the Kia’s driver.
A DOS investigator testified that Paul’s confessions were justifications of his actions in shooting/killing the Kia’s driver.
Physical evidence—ballistics and trajectory—indicates that a turret gunner (Nick was NOT a turret gunner) fired the fatal shot that killed the Kia’s driver. The jury also heard that the weapon type used by Paul to shoot and kill the driver (M-4) was capable of making that shot. A shell casing that matches Paul’s weapon was also recovered from the scene, so the jury can be certain that Paul actually fired his M-4.
Expert testimony shows that Nick would not have had the angle (from his position inside the vehicle) necessary to shoot/kill the Kia’s driver based on the scene reconstruction that the government has asked the jury to accept. In performing this alleged reconstruction, the government tried to hide from the jury that the person they used to attempt to recreate the alleged shot from inside the vehicle was actually propped up on pads (which Nick clearly wouldn’t have been). The pictures shown to the jury attempted to hide the use of the pads, but, thankfully, corners of the pads could be seen in one of the pictures.
Nick’s two shots during the incident are accounted for by testimony that Nick said immediately after the incident that he fired at an insurgent who had been shooting at the convoy. The jury also heard that DOS investigators recovered enemy shell casings in the precise location Nick said he fired, corroborating that someone had been shooting at Raven 23’s convoy from that location.
Numerous witnesses testified that the Kia presented a threat or could have been seen as a threat by others, thereby justifying shooting/killing the driver. The jury also heard that numerous members of Raven 23 (but NOT Nick), including at least two who were not charged, fired on the Kia after Paul’s initial shots.
An Army officer testified that he interviewed numerous Iraqi witnesses at the scene, just minutes after the incident, and they told him that the Kia’s driver appeared to hit the gas instead of the brake, causing the Kia to punch forward toward the convoy, like a VBIED (car bomb). The jury also heard that the government burned these interview notes.
Numerous witnesses testified that Raven 23 received incoming fire, and physical evidence documenting this was also introduced. In addition, the jury heard that Raven 22, the team that responded after Raven 23 had reported incoming fire (over the radio, in real-time), also received incoming fire and that the government had failed to preserve key drone footage of the incident.
The people the government said would corroborate Watson’s cherry-picked testimony and Murphy’s changed account did not do so. Instead, these witnesses either placed Paul Slough as the first shooter from Raven 23 (at the Kia, which presented a threat), or made clear that they did not know who fired first from Raven 23, never saw or heard Nick fire at all during the incident, and observed impacts from incoming fire in real-time.
KEEP THE FAITH & NEVER QUIT
In summary, to convict Nick of the heinous and untrue charge against him, the jury would have to accept cherry-picked and changed testimony about sounds during a war-zone engagement and throw out confessions, eyewitness accounts, and science, just to name a few. Although this is far from a game, the government is betting that its emotional pleas, attempts to slander Nick, prejudice against Blackwater, and disagreement about the Iraq War and use of contractors in general will cause the jury to accept its false narrative.
Nick’s entire life depends on the twelve people in that jury room following instructions that require acquittal if there is any reasonable doubt on a single element of the charge. We are keeping the faith that each juror sees the reasonable doubt that is everywhere in this case and finally gives Nick the acquittal that justice requires.
Thank you for your continued support and prayers. Please check our Facebook page for updates, as we will post there when we hear anything of note regarding the deliberations.