The 2018 Slatten Trials
In 2014, a civilian jury wrongly convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree premeditated murder based on the government’s allegation that, without provocation, Nick murdered the driver of a white Kia in a Baghdad war zone while Nick’s team, Raven 23, was responding to a car bomb attack. However, Nick’s conviction was overturned in 2017 because Nick’s jury had been wrongly denied key evidence of his innocence—namely four confessions, including one under oath, by Raven 23 teammate Paul Slough that were given immediately after the shooting and that detail that Paul killed the Kia’s driver after he failed to stop his vehicle’s progress toward Raven 23’s convoy despite repeated, non-lethal warnings to stop. Under enormous political pressure, the DOJ (which had previously won an award for Nick’s wrongful conviction), decided to retry Nick rather than acknowledge that Paul’s statements, which are backed up by both eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, prove that Nick is not guilty.
In June-September 2018, the government held a second trial. The eyewitnesses and physical evidence were in Nick’s favor, as they showed that Paul killed the Kia’s driver in self-defense. However, the trial judge had allowed Nick’s jury to hear irrelevant evidence of other alleged crimes by members of Raven 23 that have nothing to do with Nick and emotional testimony from the victims of those alleged crimes—testimony that was designed to prejudice Nick simply because he was a member of Raven 23. Faced with facts versus emotion, in a desperate attempt to have emotion prevail, in his rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor made several improper arguments designed to preclude the acquittal that the evidence required. For example, he told the jurors that if the government believed that Paul had killed the Kia’s driver it would have charged Paul and not Nick. Of course, the prosecutor neglected to tell the jury that Paul (and others) had, in fact, previously been charged with the driver’s death and that Nick had only been charged with the driver’s murder because the government went back on a prior decision to drop Nick from the case, and murder was the only charge for which the statute of limitations had not expired when they decided to put Nick back in the case. The prosecutor also improperly told the jury that it could throw out all the evidence except snippets of transcripts (taken out of context) from prior—unconstitutional—proceedings. Ultimately, Nick’s second jury could not reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared.
In October 2018, the government brought Nick to trial for the THIRD time. Closing arguments were December 11, 2018. After days of deliberation, Nicks third jury somehow reached a guilty verdict on December 19, 2018. We will likely never know how 12 people following the jury instructions they were given could justify that outcome to themselves in light of the overwhelming evidence of Nick’s innocence, but we are preparing for the fight ahead to address the erroneous legal rulings and prosecutorial misconduct that we believe tainted the proceedings, misled the jury, and caused them to reach a verdict that—if it stands—will send an innocent man to prison for the rest of his life. After more than 11 years of living this nightmare, experience has taught us that juries get it right about as often as prosecutors put the right person in the defendant's chair and follow their ethical obligations, and even then only when the trial judge's legal rulings keep the case from going off the rails. Unfortunately for Nick, Evan, Paul, and Dustin, that has not happened, and all three trials in this case have been the legal equivalent of a train wreck. But, thankfully, the legal teams are working hard and pursuing as many options as possible (including an appeal if necessary in Nick’s case) to course correct and get our heroes home. A flurry of filings are expected in 2019, so please keep checking back on our Blog and Facebook page for updates.