Editor's note: This is the third of a several-part series that will run during March highlighting the case of Raven 23 and Rochester native Evan Liberty, who is wrongly serving a 30-year sentence in a federal prison in the infamous Nisur Square incident in Iraq of 2007. Today: Recollections and praise from the people who know him best.
One of Evan Liberty's most prized possessions is a picture taken in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, when as a Marine Embassy guard he was assisting security for then-President George W. Bush on one of his trips to the North African country.
Brian Liberty said it shows that even though his son has been wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in a time of war in Iraq in 2007, he still loves his country and is proud of his duty on its behalf.
"He's a typical Marine, he'll always be one," Brian Liberty said recently.
Evan Liberty was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in the Nisur Square incident of Sept. 16, 2007, in which 14 Iraqis died after his Blackwater Raven 23 tactical team opened fire on civilians, government lawyers say.
However, Evan Liberty and three others who were found guilty in a Washington D.C. courtroom say they fired their weapons after coming under attack by insurgents dressed as Iraqi policeman.
For Evan Liberty the dream to serve his country had turned into a nightmare, but it wasn't always that way.
Evan Liberty signed up to enter the Marines before he was 18, while he was still a senior at Spaulding High where he was best friends with Chris Buslovich, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.
They both signed up at the same time, but were deployed to different bases when they joined up shortly after graduation.
Buslovich said he first met his longtime friend in fifth grade. The friendship continued with long, lazy afternoons through junior high and high school playing basketball or hanging out at a family pond where there was cabin if it rained.
Buslovich said Evan Liberty never got in trouble and was as level-headed a friend as you could ever want.
"He was your normal typical kid, a friend who was always there for you. He's was always level-headed, but he could be funny, too," he said.
Buslovich said Evan Liberty was a co-captain on the cross-country team they both ran on, and an all-star basketball player with the Red Raiders.
His basketball coach, Tim Cronin, coached Evan almost straight through school, first mentoring him as a fifth- and sixth-grade coach and later on the Freshman, JV and varsity teams.
"He was a team player, a very good athlete," Cronin said recently, noting at 5-foot-11, Evan was a super shooting guard and a solid player on defense.
Cronin said what really made Evan Liberty stand out was his endurance.
"He didn't run out of gas," Cronin said. "He'd run the whole game, he was a runner. Both his parents were runners, too. They were in runner's clubs.
Cronin pointed to Evan Liberty's character as an outgrowth of his upbringing.
"He grew up in an environment with strong family values, he was always willing to give back," Cronin said, adding Evan Liberty was also involved as a volunteer teaching basketball skills to younger kids on Saturday mornings.
"He wanted to give back, it's how he was brought up," Cronin added.
After Evan Liberty and Buslovich joined up with the Marines, Buslovich went to Camp Pendleton in Calif., while Evan was quickly encouraged to attend Marine Embassy Guard School where he excelled finishing high among his class.
After a stint at the American embassy in Egypt, Evan Liberty got a second embassy guard assignment in Guatemala where he met his future wife, Paola Andrea Usuga a model from Colombia.
When his stint in the Marine Corp was over, moving over to Blackwater was a natural fit, said Buslovich, who lived for a time in Lebanon, Maine, before moving to North Carolina.
He said Evan Liberty had already been trained as a security guard for the Marines, so protecting diplomats in wartorn Iraq was something for which he had all the tools.
With Blackwater, one of the most prominent and profitable security firms operating in Iraq at the time, Evan worked three months on and three months off, when he would return to Colombia to be with his wife and run a couple of gyms he'd opened.
The work for Blackwater was as dangerous as you could imagine. Evan, who was paid about $500 a day with no benefits, was in harm's way most every day, his father said.
|Evan Liberty with his mom, Debra Liberty, at his graduation from Marine Embassy School. (Courtesy photo)|
"My son was over there three years for Blackwater, and he was involved in dozens of ambushes," Brian Liberty said. "This type of stuff (like Nisur Square) happened every day."
Under Blackwater's rules of engagement operatives were "supposed to let 'them' shoot first then return fire," Brian Liberty said, adding that if you recall the news stories of the day or had seen American Sniper or other contemporary movies or documentaries depicting the Iraq War in 2007, there was a history of both women and children being used in deploying IEDs and carbombs to kill Iraqi police and civilians as well as American servicemen.
Brian Liberty said since his son was indicted in the Nisur Square incident, he has talked to hundreds of combat veterans who are in disbelief that his son and three others were prosecuted for just "doing their job."
Now, he said his son not only faces more than 29 more years in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, but the prospects if he does get out of not being able to get a job.
"Who's going to hire me now," Brian Liberty said his son often laments.
It's also been hard on Evan Liberty's mom, Debra, who does something every single day to advocate for her eldest son, Brian Liberty said.
As for Brian Liberty, he said he rarely sleeps past 3:30 a.m., waking up to wonder how his boy is doing at FCI Schuykill in Minorsville, Pa., where he is incarcerated.
As bad as he feels about his son's wrongful imprisonment, Brian Liberty knows Evan is going to make it, and will overcome whatever obstacle he faces.
"The good thing is he's handling this very well," Brian Liberty said. "He's a Marine, he's adaptable. You could drop him down anywhere in the world and in three weeks, he's going to have adapted."
Next up: What the government said happened on Sept. 16, 2007.