WASHINGTON – Justin Cannon, 29, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for his role in shooting and killing an Afghan national while on an unauthorized convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 5, 2009, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride of the Eastern District of Virginia and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar also ordered Cannon to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term.
On March 11, 2011, Cannon and Christopher Drotleff, 31, of Virginia Beach, Va., were convicted of involuntary manslaughter while working as contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan. Cannon and Drotleff were acquitted of other charges, including second-degree murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury and firearms offenses. On June 14, 2011, Drotleff was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
“Justin Cannon was hired to support the Defense Department mission in Afghanistan,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “Instead, he recklessly fired on a civilian car, killing an Afghan national. He dishonored the American military, the Afghan people, and the many men and women in uniform who serve this country honorably. Today’s sentence brings some measure of justice to an otherwise tragic situation.”
“Justin Cannon opened fire with an AK-47 at the rear of a retreating vehicle and took the life of an innocent Afghan,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “While Mr. Cannon was in Afghanistan to support to U.S. troops, his incredibly reckless behavior instead undermined our military mission and weakened the bond of trust with the Afghans. Those serving overseas – even in dangerous places like Afghanistan – must follow the law and not make up their own rules. Today’s sentence makes clear that those who break the law will be held accountable, regardless of where their crimes occur.”
Cannon and Drotleff were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in a superseding indictment filed on Aug. 5, 2010. Cannon and Drotleff were Department of Defense contractors employed by a subsidiary of Xe (formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide).
According to evidence presented at trial, on May 5, 2009, both men left their military base without authorization to transport local interpreters. The evidence at trial established that, after the lead vehicle in the convoy crashed and was overturned on the side of the road, Cannon and Drotleff fired multiple shots into the back of a civilian car that had attempted to pass the accident scene. The passenger of the car was fatally shot and the driver was seriously injured. An individual who happened to be walking his dog in the area was also killed in the shooting. The jury found the defendants guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Romal Mohammad Naiem, the front-seat passenger. They were acquitted of charges relating to the death of the person walking his dog and injuries to the driver.
According to court records, as contractors, Cannon and Drotleff provided training to the Afghan National Army for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the use and maintenance of weapons and weapons systems.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Robert McGovern of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy C. Stoker and Alan M. Salsbury from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia - Norfolk Division. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.