From the Filings: Confessions

In part two of our three-part “From the Filings” series we focus on the multiple confessions of another member of Raven 23 to shooting and killing the Kia’s driver in self-defense, plus accounts from eyewitnesses and physical evidence that corroborate those confessions. The proof is crystal clear that this person—not Nick—shot and killed the Kia’s driver. (The self-defense aspect is beside the point as it relates to Nick; and while it does matter for the other defendants and the understanding over the overall issue at hand, all that matters for Nick’s case is that he is not the one who fired at the white Kia).


Paul Slough Acknowledged Firing At The White Kia In Self Defense Repeatedly

Mr. Slough, who was shooting from an elevated position on top of the armored vehicle, had an unobstructed 360-degree view and admitted that he shot the driver.  According to the D.C.Circuit, Mr. Slough’s repeated confessions “strike at the heart of [the government’s] theory and instead point to [Slough], not Slatten, as the Blackwater convoy member who first ‘engaged and hit the driver’ of the white Kia.”  United States v. Slatten, 865 F.3d 767, 803 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (per curiam).  These statements “contradict the core of the homicide count against Slatten.”  Id. at 809.

The government first attempts to diminish the impact of Mr. Slough’s acknowledgements on the sufficiency analysis by claiming that there are meaningful differences between his various statements.  See Opp’n 15.  But the D.C. Circuit has analyzed the statements already and concluded the opposite:  “He consistently reported the essential details of his story over the course of multiple interviews.  Consistency supports the reliability of his multiple statements and, consequently, his veracity.”  Slatten, 865 F.3d at 808 (emphasis added and internal alterations and citations omitted).  Mr. Slough was consistent about the only point that matters here—he shot the driver of the white Kia in self defense.

The government next claims that Mr. Slough made “self-serving” statements that were contradicted by the testimony of other witnesses.  See Opp’n 15-16.  But none of these supposedly self-serving statements undermines his acknowledgment.  To the contrary, these statements are justifications for the shooting; justifications he never would have had to offer if he did not engage in the first instance.  It may be self-serving to say the car was moving at a fast speed or that people were yelling at the car to stop, see Opp’n 15, but this would help justify Mr. Slough’s shots at the driver.  It may be self-serving to say Nisur Square was teaming with insurgents, see Opp’n 15-16, but this would help justify Mr. Slough’s shots at the driver and his later shots in Nisur Square.  It is not self-serving to say I first engaged and hit the driver.  Indeed, notwithstanding the allegedly self-serving portions of Mr. Slough’s statements identified by the government, the D.C. Circuit held that when Mr. Slough confessed to shooting the driver, he “was likely telling the truth.”  Slatten, 865 F.3d at 808

Every Single Eyewitness Corroborated Slough’s Acknowledgments

Not only did Mr. Slough acknowledge shooting the driver in self defense—every single eyewitness who testified at trial corroborated that acknowledgment and identified a turret gunner as the shooter.  The government’s arguments to the contrary are flimsy and fly in the face of the D.C. Circuit’s prior conclusion that the eyewitness testimony “corroborates [Slough’s] statements that he engaged and hit the driver, of the white Kia and was unaware of any shots being fired before his.”  Slatten, 865 F.3d at 809 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).  

The government acknowledges that Officer Ghalaf identified a turret gunner in Mr. Slough’s position as the shooter, but claims, without citing record evidence, that “there was evidence” that he was making an “assumption.”  Opp’n 14.  To the contrary, Officer Ghalaf testified he was three to four meters away from Mr. Slough’s vehicle when he saw Mr. Slough fire his weapon, Mr. Slough’s shots killed the driver, and Officer Ghalaf was 100 percent certain about what he observed.  11/19/18 PM Tr. 2204:8-9, 2206:6-15, 2168:1-25 (Ghalaf); see also Slatten, 865 F.3d at 809 (Ghalaf “agreed that, from his proximity to the convoy, he was ‘100 percent certain’ that a man in [Slough’s] precise position fired the first shots.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).  

The government notes Officer Moniem’s new and inconsistent testimony on direct examination about a possible assumption on his part, see Opp’n 14, but acknowledges that he testified “the turret gunners fired first,” Opp’n 13.  More importantly, the government has no response to Officer Moniem’s critical testimony that the first shots did not come from inside the vehicle where Mr. Slatten was located.  11/19/18 AM Tr. 2044:9-11, 2046:17-21 (Moniem); see also Slatten, 865 F.3d at 809 (Moniem “also testified that from his ‘very close’ vantage point ‘about three to four meters away from [the] armored cars,’ he also witnessed the first shots coming from [Slough’s] precise position and ‘not from the holes or the windows’” (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted)).

The government attempts to undermine Mr. Ridgeway’s testimony about what he saw—Mr. Slough firing his M-4 at the white Kia—by alleging that Mr. Ridgeway’s testimony about what he heard—automatic gunfire—conflicts with other witnesses.  But Officer Ghalaf and Moniem’s descriptions of the sounds is consistent with Mr. Ridgeway’s—a short burst of initial shots that preceded the death of the driver.  11/27/18 PM Tr. 2707:4-6 (Ridgeway) (“Q. So after a couple of seconds of gunfire, the Kia stops, and then there’s a lull in the gunfire; correct?  A. Yes, sir.”).  Officer Ghalaf testified that he heard “three to four shots” fired “intermittent[ly], but fast.”  11/19/18 PM Tr. 2205:19-25 (Ghalaf).  Officer Moniem testified that initially there was “dense shooting” of “as many as ten” shots “[a]pproximately.”  11/19/18 AM Tr. 2038:8-16 (Moniem).   In any event, there is no discrepancy about what each of these witnesses perceived—a turret gunner firing the fatal shots.  

The government also asserts that Mr. Ridgeway was “mistaken” about Mr. Slough firing the initial, fatal shots from his M-4 rifle, claiming falsely, again without record citation, that “every other Raven 23 member testified that Slough fired his M240, not his M-4.”  Opp’n 14.  Messrs. Randall and Mealy did not see what weapon Mr. Slough fired during the initial flurry of shots, and Mr. Randall did not observe anything ruling out the possibility that Mr. Slough had fired his M-4. 11/29/18 PM Tr. 3148:9-3149:3 (Randall); 11/26/18 PM Tr. 2405:3 (Mealy) (“I didn’t look over until after the machine guns had already engaged”).  Messrs. Watson and Murphy, the two earwitnesses, claimed that they heard Mr. Slough fire only his M240, but this is a powerful reason to conclude that their testimony cannot provide a basis to convict.  We know as a matter of scientific certainty that their testimony about the nuanced sounds of gunfire is wrong; the scientific evidence from the government’s own ballistics expert established that Mr. Slough fired his M-4 that day.  See Ex. 4 (DX6337); 11/26/18 AM Tr. 2299:16-21 (Giroux).  The government concedes that Mr. Slough fired his M-4.  Opp’n to Mot. for New Trial, ECF No. 1259, at 25.  Moreover, like Mr. Ridgeway, Officer Moniem observed Mr. Slough and the other turret gunners fire their initial shots from their “rifles,” as opposed to the mounted M240 machine guns.  11/19/18 AM Tr. 2095:17-19 (Moniem) (“Question: And you could see those men pointing their rifles?  Answer: Yes.”). 

The Physical Evidence Corroborated Slough’s Acknowledgments and the Eyewitness Testimony

The physical and scientific evidence also corroborated that Mr. Slough, and not Mr. Slatten, engaged the advancing white Kia. Because the government has no physical or scientific evidence on its side, the government says nothing in its brief about this evidence.

As explained in Nick’s filings, that evidence was as follows:

a. After the shooting incident, a large volume of 5.56mm shell casings, the type fired by Mr. Slough’s M4 rifle and not by Mr. Slatten’s SR-25 rifle, were found in the circle, 11/16/18 AM Tr. at 1869:23-24, 1871:4-7 (Tarsa), corroborating what Messrs. Slough and Ridgeway said—the turret gunners fired their M4 rifles at the white Kia.    

b. The government’s ballistics expert testified that these expended shell casings included 5.56mm shell casings that he was able to match to Mr. Slough’s M4 rifle, DX-6337; 11/26/18 AM Tr. at 2299:16-21 (Giroux), and to Mr. Ridgeway’s M4 rifle, DX-7066; 11/26/18 AM Tr. at 2300:17-2302:1 (Giroux), further corroborating the accounts of Messrs. Slough and Ridgeway. 

c. The only type of bullet fragment found in the Kia that the government’s expert could analyze was consistent with a 5.56mm bullet, which was not the caliber of bullet in Nick’s weapons.  See DX-5007 (Ballistics Summary Chart for White Kia); 11/26/18 AM Tr. at 2306:13-2307:1 (Giroux).

d. Officer Moniem claimed to have observed a single hole in the victim’s forehead, 11/16/18 PM Tr. at 1984:12-13 (Moniem), which would have been inconsistent with a wound caused by an SR-25 bullet that had first penetrated a windshield.  The government’s expert witness testified at this trial that the SR-25 bullet fragments substantially when it passes through a windshield.  12/4/18 AM Tr. at 3471:17-21, 3473:17-22, 3495:25-3496:14 (Patterson).  Thus, a bullet fired from Mr. Slatten’s SR-25, through the Kia windshield, into the Kia driver’s face would have caused multiple wounds in a splatter-like fashion, not a single hole.  Gelatin head tests for the M4 demonstrated that the M4 bullet did not fragment after hitting the windshield for three of the five tests.  See DX-7300; DX-7303; DX-7304.   On the two occasions the M4 bullet did fragment, the steel penetrator and the remainder of the bullet continued to travel towards the target right next to each other.  See DX-7301; DX-7302; 12/4/18 AM Tr. at 3486:16-3487:15 (Patterson). The physical evidence and the government’s own expert witnesses corroborate Mr.

Slough’s acknowledgment, Mr. Ridgeway’s testimony exonerating Mr. Slatten, and the testimony by the Iraqi police officers that the turret gunners, not Mr. Slatten, killed the driver.  This, too, makes “reasonable doubt” the only supportable conclusion.

You’re likely shaking your head at how a jury could find—beyond a reasonable doubt—that Nick shot and killed the Kia’s driver in light of all of this evidence that Paul Slough engaged the driver in self defense. You’ll shake your head even more when you learn something the jury didn’t as a result of an erroneous legal ruling by the trial court: THE KIA’S DRIVER REFUSED TO TESTIFY AGAINST NICK BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT TOLD HIM, FOR YEARS, THAT THE TURRET GUNNER HAD KILLED HIS SON.

Yet, Nick finds himself behind bars, fighting for his life, for shots that were not his.