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Blackwater guards arraigned today (video)

I went to DC Circuit Court today to see the arraignment of the five men accused of voluntary manslaughter for the incident that occurred 16 September 2007 in Nisour Square, Iraq. All five pleaded not guilty to all charges against them, and their attorneys are presenting a combined defense of all of them. The courtroom was full although few items of substance were discussed today. A  tentative trial date of 1 February 2010 was set as well as a motions hearing for this coming Feb. 17. The only issue of contention today was whether the plea agreement and transcripts of the plea hearings for Jeremy Ridgeway would be unsealed. He is a guard from the Raven 23 convoy who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has agreed to testify against his comrades as part of a plea agreement.

The defense team had requested that all documents relating to this agreement be unsealed so they could examine whether Ridgeway was actually arrested in DC or if he had surrendered as part of the plea agreement. This has an effect on the proper venue for the 5 guards who have been indicted and who turned themselves in to federal authorities in Utah, where one lives. Defense has moved that Utah is the proper venue and they could assume to find a more sympathetic jury pool there should this case go to trial.

In addition they noted that the grand jury that had indicted their clients was still sitting and inquired whether they could expect additional charges against their client or potentially additional defendants. This caused the prosecution to request a private conversation with the judge that appeared to bolster this contention. Initially the judge ruled that all documents from Ridgeway's plea hearings be unsealed, but again the prosecution requested a private talk with the judge. After this the judge reversed himself and stated that the documents would be unsealed in 90 days. This effectively blocks the defense from using any information from Ridgeway and the prosecutions discussions and plea to argue for a change of venue. The lawyers discussed this on the elevator ride down after the hearing and found this highly unusual and almost unprecedented. It seems likely that the prosecution is still working to have Ridgeway implicate more of his comrades or to add charges.

After the hearing the defendants were required to be processed again by US Marshalls even though this had already been done in Utah. The judge asked if this was necessary and the Marshall replied, they don't communicate with the Marshalls in Utah. While this was ongoing their attorneys spoke briefly to the press and I got one of three questions in.

Previous reporting on this:

"Contact, Contact, Contact" Radio logs from Blackwater shootings
SOFA sinks Blackwater Guards
Talking Blackwater w/ G. Gordon Liddy

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