WASHINGTON - As he stood before the same federal judge who sentenced him in 2015 to a 30-year firearms violation for his actions in the so-called Nisour Square massacre in Iraq of 2007, Evan Liberty of Rochester said he felt remorse for the loss of innocent lives, some at his hand.
"I regret my actions that day, the loss of innocent life," the 37 year-old said quietly. "I never intended to kill innocent civilians."
Moments later, the relatives of Liberty, Paul A. Slough, 39, of Keller, Texas., and Dustin L. Heard, 38, of Maryville, Tenn., listened breathlessly as U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth delivered the news no one wanted to hear: that the men would still have to spend another 7-10 yeas in jail.
Liberty was sentenced to 14 years, while Slough was given 15 years and Heard 12 years.
It was devastating news for Brian and Debra Liberty, Evan's parents, who along with family and friends of the other two were hoping and praying for either significantly lighter sentences or even release on time served.
The resentecing had originally been set for Friday before being switched to Thursday, sparking rumors they might be released since Parole and Probation officers would not be available on Friday per department norm.
Outside the courtroom immediately following the judge's decision, Evan Liberty's defense lawyer Bill Coffield tried to console members of his family.
"At least we're going in the right direction," he said, in that the three had originally been sentenced to 30 years.
Lambert said his stiff sentences were due to the carnage that occurred that day at the hands of the members of Raven 23, who were Blackwater employees under contract to protect diplomats in and around Baghdad.
The September 2007 shootings left 14 dead and 17 wounded. Prosecutors said they fired indiscriminately at civilians for no reason, while the three men said they had been shot at by Iraqi insurgents. A Washington jury found them guilty in 2014.
Lamberth said deterrence was another major factor in his decision making,saying he wanted to send a messageour servicemen andwomen as well as military contractors that they, too, "will be held accountable if they kill or injure innocent civilians."
Brian Heberlig, Slough's attorney and one of lead defense attorneys for the team, said the case would be immediately appealed, adding they have good reason they can have the sentences reduced yet again.
"See you next year," Coffield quipped when asked when an appeal might be scheduled.
It took the courts more than two years to schedule the resentencing, which was ordered in August 2017 after a Washington appellate court found the 30-year sentences "cruel and unusual punishment."
Coffield and Heberlig both feel a key in the upcoming appeal will be the disproportionately light sentence received by Jereymy Ridgeway, a Raven 23 member who fired indiscriminately more than any other squad member, who by his own admission was out of control during the incident.
Ridgeway turned state's witness, testified against the three and received a year and a day in jail with six months suspended. Coffield and Heberlig said turning state's evidence usually brings a 25 percent sentence reduction at best, so by that calculation the three defendants should have been out of prison after two years if not less.
Prior to pronouncing sentence, several members of the defendants' family and friends spoke on their behalf, including Evan Liberty's childhood buddy Chris Buslovich, who told the judge he had never known a more selfless individual.
"All Evan wanted out of life was to serve; he has no ill will to our justices system," Buslovich said.