WASHINGTON (AP) — The defense team in the Blackwater trial attacked the testimony of a key prosecution witness Thursday, telling a jury that the witness lied to federal investigators even after he had sworn to tell the truth in an effort to win leniency in the case surrounding the killings of 14 Iraqis.
The witness, former Blackwater guard Jeremy Ridgeway, undercut the defense of four of his former colleagues. The four say they acted in self-defense, firing their weapons because they believed they were under attack by insurgents.
Ridgeway, who pleaded guilty to two felonies, testified that he didn’t feel that he and his colleagues were being fired upon when they started shooting in downtown Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007.
Ridgeway told a jury that he didn’t see any Iraqis pointing guns in Nisoor Square where the shootings took place, that there were no telltale muzzle flashes in the distance, that there was no incoming fire and that there was no sound of AK-47 rounds going off, as would be the case if insurgents were shooting at the Blackwater guards from nearby.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Brian Heberlig, Ridegway’s truthfulness became an issue almost immediately in questioning that is expected to resume on Monday.
In the aftermath of the shootings, Ridgeway lied to State Department investigators and to the FBI, even lying to prosecutors after he promised the government his full cooperation in a bid for leniency, Ridgeway told the court.
The lies revolved around the fact that Ridgeway said from the start of the investigation into the shootings that he had seen muzzle flashes and that there had been incoming fire, presumably from insurgents firing on the heavily armed four-vehicle Blackwater convoy.
From the witness stand, Ridgeway admitted he had lied, but said, “I did come clean,” the year after he pleaded guilty in the Blackwater investigation. In his changed story, Ridgeway is now saying that there was no incoming gunfire and that he saw no muzzle flashes.
Ridgeway testified that after some of the Blackwater guards opened fire, most of the Iraqis in the area were fleeing for their lives, running away from, rather than toward, the Blackwater convoy of four heavily armed vehicles.
The trial has been under way for the past month and a half.
Ridgeway has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Three of his former colleagues — Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty — are charged with voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations. A conviction on the gun charge, which carries the heaviest penalties, would result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years. A fourth Blackwater guard, Nicholas Slatten, is charged with first-degree murder.
In addition to the shooting deaths of the 14 Iraqis, another 18 were wounded.
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