By Tim McGlone
© November 30, 2012
A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the manslaughter convictions of two former contractors who shot and killed two Afghan civilians and wounded a third in 2009.
The ruling means Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Louisiana will have to serve out their prison terms. They have been free on bond pending a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
Drotleff, 32, and Cannon, 30, were working for Blackwater subsidiary Paravant in the spring of 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. They were driving in a convoy when the lead vehicle got into an accident. Blackwater, later known as Xe and now Academi, has a training site in Moyock, N.C.
Drotleff and Cannon shot at a car that had driven through the accident scene. They claimed they fired in self-defense believing that the driver was coming at them. A passenger in the car and a pedestrian were killed. The driver was wounded.
A grand jury indicted the pair on murder charges, but after two trials a jury in Norfolk convicted them in March 2011 of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter, finding that they unlawfully killed the passenger in the car. They were acquitted of charges in the death of the pedestrian and the wounding of the driver.
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar sentenced Drotleff to 37 months in prison and Cannon to 30 months. Each served time in a local jail but the judge let Cannon out on bond after the first trial and Drotleff out on bond after the second.
Drotleff has about 22 months remaining to serve and Cannon about 21 months.
They can try to appeal the case further and ask Doumar to remain free. Federal prosecutors can also push to have their bonds revoked.
Drotleff’s attorney, Trey Kelleter, said they are exploring their options.
In the same decision, the appeals court also upheld the validity of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which gives federal courts jurisdiction for crimes committed by Defense Department contractors overseas.
Tim McGlone, 757-446-2343, firstname.lastname@example.org