NORFOLK, Va. – Federal prosecutors said Monday that they will not seek the death penalty against two former Blackwater contractors charged in the shooting deaths of two Afghans.

Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, still could face life in prison if convicted of last year’s killings. They are charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons counts. The trial is scheduled for Sept. 14.

During a brief hearing, prosecutor Randy Stoker told U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar that the attorney general decided against pursuing the death penalty. Stoker did not give a reason for the decision.

“We’re delighted,” Drotleff’s attorney, Lawrence Woodward, said afterward. “It’s still an extremely serious case for the defendants and their families.”

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Cannon’s attorney, James Broccoletti, said of the attorney general’s decision. “The next step would be to drop the case.”

Drotleff and Cannon have said they were justified in opening fire last year on a car that caused an accident in front of their vehicle at a Kabul intersection. They say they fired after the vehicle sped toward them. The men were in the country to train the Afghan National Army.

Prosecutors have said the men had been drinking in violation of military and company policy the day of the shooting.

Drotleff and Cannon were arrested in early January, a day after Xe — the North Carolina-based company formerly known as Blackwater — settled a series of federal lawsuits alleging that illegal activity by the company led to the deaths of dozens of Iraqis. Those killings and other problems in Iraq have led to the U.S. government’s push to increase oversight of contractors in war zones.


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