Murder?: The Vindictive Prosecutions of Nick Slatten
Unlike the other men of Raven 23, Nick Slatten’s defense is not self-defense. Nick’s defense is he is not the actual killer of the driver of the white Kia.
Nick’s case is different because, backed into a corner of its own incompetence, the government lost the chance to try Nick for the lesser (but still unjustified) manslaughter charges brought against his teammates—charges that were based on the theory that anyone who fired during the firefight committed the crime of aiding and abetting the admitted wrongdoer/government cooperator who shot into the crowd without identifying threats. However, the government ultimately could not prosecute Nick under its long-held theory of the case because, many years earlier, a prior trial team had dropped Nick from the case after acknowledging that the evidence against Nick for those lesser charges was “weak.” The applicable statute of limitations ran while Nick was out of the case, but a new trial team sought to put Nick back in the manslaughter case after he refused to help the government wrongly convict his teammates. The trial judge ruled that the government could prosecute Nick even though the statute of limitations had expired, but Nick secured a last-minute, emergency ruling by a higher court requiring his dismissal from the case. Rather than accept defeat, with no change in the evidence, just a month prior to the June 2014 trial, the government vindictively charged Nick with first-degree premeditated murder, the only charge that does not carry a statute of limitations. Regarding the government’s behavior, the esteemed non-profit, non-partisan National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has stated, “A more textbook case of vindictive prosecution can scarcely be imagined.”
THE FIRST TRIAL
At trial, the insanity continued. The government presented no evidence that Nick killed the driver (because he didn’t). The government’s own cooperator even testified that he (the cooperator) believed he fired the first shots through the Kia’s window after he saw another turret gunner (Paul Slough) shooting at the Kia. Physical evidence (bullet fragments) pulled from the Kia’s steering wheel (that did not match Nick’s weapon) backed up the cooperator’s testimony that someone besides Nick killed the driver. And the cooperator also testified that Nick suppressed an active shooter rather than the Kia's driver. Yet, somehow, the trial judge refused to grant Nick the judgment of acquittal required by law, and the civilian jury—apparently swallowing the “unprovoked massacre” theory of the case the government itself has since stepped back from by acknowledging during the appellate process that the ENEMY fired first—convicted Nick. He was then sentenced to life in federal prison.
But, the rights violations in Nick’s case get even more appalling than this. During the appeal, it became clear that, since day one, the government has had statements (including statements under oath) from one of Nick’s codefendants (Paul Slough) that conclusively prove Nick did not kill the driver of the Kia because Paul shot and killed the driver in self-defense, when the driver failed to stop his vehicle despite numerous warnings. These statements were hidden from Nick’s jury because they could not be introduced in Paul’s trial, and, in violation of Nick’s right to due process, the trial judge wrongly refused to sever Nick’s case for a separate trial so Nick’s jury could hear the proof of his innocence. In 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this denied Nick a fair trial and threw out Nick’s conviction.
THE SECOND TRIAL
Armed with the truth—that Nick did not shoot, let alone kill the Kia’s driver—did the government stop? No. In June 2018, the government tried Nick a second time, again charging him with the premeditated murder of the Kia’s driver. During Nick’s second trial, additional exculpatory evidence was revealed, including:
Just days after the incident, the Department of State found enemy shell casings in the exact location where Nick said that he engaged an active shooter (i.e., NOT the Kia’s driver). This evidence accounts for the two shots Nick is alleged to have fired during the incident and confirms the presence of mitigating circumstances (i.e., incoming fire).
The metal frame of the Kia’s headrest contains a bullet hole, and the government claimed it was from the kill shot . . . UNTIL a trajectory expert testified it could not have been fired from Nick’s location and had to have been fired by a turret gunner.
The father of the Kia’s driver refused to testify against Nick because the government told him that Paul, not Nick, killed his son.
The main witness on whom the government relied to secure Nick’s indictment (by misrepresenting the witness’s grand jury testimony as claiming that Nick fired first even though the witness said he heard other shots first) was suffering from mental illness and was under the influence of narcotics during his grand jury testimony. The government knew about the witness’s mental state and drug use at the time of his grand jury testimony (which was given nearly 6 years after the incident) but violated its obligation to disclose this information to Nick; it was revealed for the first time during Nick’s second trial.
U.S. intelligence shows that the lead Iraqi investigator (who controlled the scene and the witnesses for weeks before the FBI arrived in Baghdad) has suspected ties to insurgency.
Short on evidence, the government resorted to desperation. In his closing rebuttal argument, the government prosecutor made numerous improper and highly prejudicial arguments (including telling the jury that they could throw out all the testimony they heard during the trial and just rely on excerpts of transcripts from prior proceedings that the judge had allowed to be introduced into evidence). Clearly, it worked. Nick’s second jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, and a mistrial was declared.
THE THIRD TRIAL
With another opportunity to do the right thing, did the government stop its vindictive prosecution? No. On September 14, 2018, the government announced its intent to try Nick a third time. Nick’s motion for judgment of acquittal, which is an attempt to have the court dismiss the case on legal grounds and prevent a third trial is HERE.
Unfortunately, the trial court denied Nick the acquittal that the law requires. Then, following a lengthy trial and days of deliberations, Nick’s third jury returned a shocking guilty verdict. It is unfathomable how 12 people following the jury instructions they were given can justify that result to themselves in light of the overwhelming evidence of Nick’s innocence—evidence that created the resasonable doubt that required Nick’s acquittal. While we will likely never know what happened in that room, we can only conclude that the erroneous legal rulings and prosecutorial misconduct that has plagued the Raven 23 prosecution tainted the proceedings, misled the jury, and caused them to return a verdict that is wrong and—if stands—will send an innocent man to prison for the rest of his life. But, our fight is far from over. Nick’s legal team will pursue every available option, including an appeal, if necessary, to correct this gross miscarriage of justice.