[JURIST] A former contractor for Blackwater [JURIST news archive], now known as Xe Services [corporate website], was sentenced [press release] Monday to two-and-a-half years in prison for the 2009 shooting of an unarmed Afghan civilian in Kabul. Justin Cannon was convicted in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk, VA in March, along with Christopher Drotleff, for involuntary manslaughter. Drotleff was sentenced to 37 months in prison earlier this month. They are the first contractors [Virginia-Pilot report] for the North Carolina-based company to be sentenced to prison for killing a civilian in a war zone. Prosecutors alleged that the two men left their military base without authorization while intoxicated and opened fire into the back of a civilian car after a traffic accident. The driver of the car and a civilian bystander were killed, and a passenger in the car was wounded. Cannon and Drotleff claim that they were defending themselves and that they were not drinking. They were facing a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. Both men were only convicted on the involuntary manslaughter count for the death of the driver, while being acquitted of two counts of second-degree murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury to the passenger and firearms offenses. US District Judge Robert Doumar was unsympathetic to the two men's argument that they were operating under the dangerous conditions of a war zone. He said the men were lucky [AP report] to have good court-appointed attorneys that were able to avoid murder convictions. Cannon's attorneys said they planned to appeal the manslaughter conviction.
Cannon and Drotleff were originally indicted [indictment, PDF] in January 2010, but were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [text, PDF] in a superseding indictment in August. They were initially tried in September, but the judge declared a mistrial [JURIST report] after the jury failed to reach a verdict. Earlier this month, four former Blackwater contractors appealed the April decision to reinstate manslaughter charges against them in connection with their alleged roles in a 2007 shooting incident [JURIST reports] in Baghdad, Iraq. In April 2010, a federal grand jury indicted five former Blackwater executives [JURIST report] on charges of weapons violations and lying to investigators. In February 2010, the Iraqi government ordered 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq [JURIST report] in reaction to the dismissal of charges against former Blackwater employees accused in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] in 2007. That month, the Department of Justice [official website] also opened an investigation [JURIST report] into whether Blackwater bribed the Iraqi government to be permitted to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.