Washington: Lawyers for Blackwater security guards said today that the US government has suppressed evidence favourable to defendants who are on trial in the killings of 14 Iraqis in Nisoor Square in Baghdad.
US Attorney Ronald Machen says that "a series of innocent oversights" led to the problem.
The defence team for the four former Blackwater guards says the suppressed evidence consists of photographs of eight spent shell casings that would fit an AK-47 the weapon of choice used by insurgents as well as Iraqi authorities.
A court filing by the defenCe attorneys says a US Army captain took the photographs at a bus stop several hundred feet from Nisoor Square and that they never saw the light of day until federal prosecutors turned them over last Wednesday.
The photos could become an important part of the case. They could bolster the accounts of the security guards, who say they were being fired upon by insurgents and that the guards were simply returning fire.
"The government has suppressed, for seven years, evidence in its possession that is plainly exculpatory on the central disputed issue" in the case, the defence lawyers said in a court filing.
"Had they possessed these photos, defendants would have made them a central focus during opening statements as evidence of incoming fire.
Defendants also would have used this evidence to cross-examine at least four witnesses who have already testified" and who are not subject to being recalled because they have returned to Iraq.
The defence attorneys are asking that they be allowed to explain to the jurors in the case why they are just hearing now about the new evidence. The defence lawyers also want the judge to tell the jurors that the government failed to disclose the evidence before the trial, which began over a month ago.
According to the court filing, then-Army Capt. Peter Decareau was one of the first Americans to arrive at the Nisoor Square crime scene, where he took photos, including two of a group of eight AK-47 shells on the ground behind the bus stop.
On October 12, 2007, Decareau turned over to the FBI a CD of the crime scene photos.
Based on Decareau`s testimony, federal prosecutors all understood that Decareau did not observe any AK-47 shell casings on the scene, Machen wrote defense lawyers.
In addition, prosecutors "incorrectly assumed" that a montage of Decareau`s photos contained all the photos from the disc he had provided to the FBI, Machen wrote.