Battleground Raven 23 – The Sentencing

By Faye Higbee

“We will not stop fighting for true justice until these men come home.” Christin Slough, Paul Slough’s wife

raven 23


The Prosecutor’s noose

Judge Lamberth entered the courtroom on April 13, 2015, in a not-so-pleasant mood. The Federal prosecutor had built a tight case, painting a picture of men who hated the Iraqis so much that they just wanted to kill them. Using words like “massacre,” “slaughter,” and “atrocity,” he demanded  an “upward departure” from standard sentencing guidelines. He stood in front of the court and declared that the 4 defendants had created a national security issue for Americans by their actions. His recommendation? Make them pay for every victim. Make an example of them.

Iraqis, 4 of whom were members of the same family, spoke before the judge about the impact of the death of their son/brother, a 9 year old boy named Ali. The father shouted through the courtroom about how Blackwater broke the promise of the United States government and killed his son. His wife openly wept and addressed the Raven 23 members with, “Why you kill my son?”

Anyone not familiar with the case would have thought the defendants were monsters who killed without regard for human life.


Ali was supposedly killed by a black-tipped machine gun round. Paul Slough was convicted of killing the boy when he did not use black-tipped ammunition in his machine gun. There is no evidence to suggest that he had any black-tipped ammo in his machine gun “belt.”

The prosecutor told the judge that Evan Liberty shot a man who was standing with his hands up in a position of “don’t shoot.”

Evan himself stated that he shot two men, both of whom were shooting at him while dressed as Iraqi policemen, which was borne out by the Blackwater helicopter team who saw people ditching Iraqi uniforms.

As the prosecutor continued his web of lies, the noose tightened around the necks of the four defendants.  “They could have chosen to set their rifles on single shot.” “They displayed malicious intent.” “They wanted to instigate a firefight when there were no threats.”


“The verdict was wrong… I will fight for Mr. Heard until the day I die.” Dave Schertler, Defense Attorney

The defense countered every argument made by the prosecution, and requested a “sentencing package” of 30 years plus 1 day. They argued that a sentence of 30 years for a machine gun violation that did not apply to the case in the first place was excessive under the 8th Amendment for cruel and unusual punishment.

The judge refused to change his position.  It meant then that the judge’s hands were completely tied by the verdict- a 30 year mandatory sentence for the firearms charge in addition to the years for the manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter charges left the specter of life in prison for the three other men. It appeared hopeless.

Friends and family stood before the judge and gave testimony of the true character of the defendants. Honorable men, decorated military members, not killers, but men of integrity and hard work. Men of the “highest moral and ethical conduct.” The two Marines who ‘epitomized the honor, courage and commitment’ of the Marine Corps. All of the men were those whose selfless acts had saved countless lives… defenders, protectors.


In the back of the courtroom, nearly 100 men and women, most wearing black and red Raven 23 support clothing,  arose in support of the defendants every time the shackled inmates were led into the room. It was not lost on the judge.

“I came in here with a different mindset… I do sentencings every day, but this show of support is extraordinary. Many times there is no one here.” Judge Lamberth’s voice faltered. 

In a surprise move, the judge imposed the sentence package requested by the Defense: 30 years plus one day for Slough, Heard, and Liberty. The prosecution and the Iraqis did not entirely get their way.

The government knew from the beginning that the Raven 23 men reacted  in response to incoming fire, a “notion” the judge refuted. As the defense put it, “the verdict was a shock and a crushing injustice.” Others had confessed to killing some of the people in Nisur Square, but the prosecution chose to target the defendants  in an “aiding and abetting” act which left them as scapegoats. The FBI’s poor investigation was designed to place blame on someone, anyone they could, to placate the Iraqis.

“We could not be more disappointed by Judge Lamberth’s decision in Nick’s case. But we remain hopeful that  he will change his mind when fully briefed on the most recent rights violation in forthcoming motions for a new trial…We are confident that the egregious rights violations and erroneous legal rulings that plagued this case will be corrected on appeal, and we will once again achieve true justice for Nick Slatten in the DC Circuit.” Jessica Slatten, Nick’s sister.


The jury could not accurately assess the dangers of Nisur Square on September 16, 2007. It was not a trial by the jury of their peers. The defense request for a change of venue had been denied, which caused them to end up with a mostly female jury who had no reference point either for the hard working, small town men on trial, or the deadly circumstances in which they found themselves in Iraq. A jury which, as Jessica Slatten put it, “learned about combat from  Wikipedia.”

The ramifications of this trial for future military and security contractors are deeply disturbing. They will be prosecuted for engaging the enemy, and the government will lie in order to do it. It has already occurred with various trials such as Clint Lorance, and  a Marine Commando unit who engaged the enemy and were betrayed in a way that damaged their honor.

The Defense was given 14 days in which to file an appeal. They will be fighting on all fronts for a new trial, a determination of cruel and unusual punishment on the 8th Amendment issue, and new evidence from an Iraqi witness who completely changed the testimony he gave at trial when he filed a witness impact statement. The battle for Raven 23 is by no means finished.