A year after his release from prison thanks to a pardon from President Trump, former decorated Marine, Blackwater guard and Rochester native Evan Liberty said he is forever thankful for those that never doubted his innocence in a Baghdad traffic circle gun battle that left more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead.
It was around 6 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2020, that Evan's Dad, Brian Liberty of Rochester, got the news his son had been pardoned.
I learned just shortly thereafter, but after a long day at work, I decided to wait till the next day to do my stories. That was stupid. I tossed and turned till around 3 a.m., tossed off the covers, started a pot of coffee and began writing. I think I published the first story in The Voice before 5 a.m. I was so excited I could barely type.
About a week later Evan Liberty in his first published post-release interview described the surreal moment one of the head guards came to his cell and told him the incredible news even as rumors swirled inside the prison walls that a pardon was possible at any time.
From that exclusive interview this is what he said.
"I was trying to go about my daily routine and not get stressed. On that Tuesday (around 5:30 p.m.) I was reading - studying Spanish - and my unit manager came to my door. I could tell he was frantic, and I was taken aback. He said 'sit down'; I was already sitting down. Then he said 'are you ready for this?'
I said what's going on?
He said, 'You just got a presidential pardon, pack your stuff.'
I was in shock, I put my head in may hands. I told him I am packed; I don't need nothing."
The pardon brought to an end an agonizing 13-year battle to prove his innocence in the shooting outside Baghdad's Green Zone, where Evan Liberty and his Blackwater convoy Raven 23 were directed to protect another Blackwater unit that was delivering a diplomat to safety on Sept. 16, 2007.
As Raven 23 set up in a traffic circle to clear a path for the other unit, Iraqi insurgents dressed as policeman opened fire on Raven 23.
Evan Liberty and his comrades returned fire and in the wake of the firefight, Iraqi officials said at least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed.
While Evan Liberty and other Raven 23 members told investigators they were fired at and were only defending themselves, U.S. prosecutors chose to indict them for manslaughter, claiming they panicked and fired upon unarmed civilians.
In 2009 a federal judge dismissed the case for prosecutorial misconduct and withholding exculpatory evidence, but the Obama administration chose instead to promise Iraq a continued effort to punish the men and sent then Vice President Biden to Iraq to publicly promise so to the Iraqi president, hence Raven 23 being later dubbed the Biden 4.
A recent motion to void the charges sent to the D.C. judge who presided over their trial explains the court's vindictive prosecution and how it unfolded.
"Prosecutorial misconduct has run stem to stern in this case," the motion asserts. "The impetus for the prosecution's zeal to 'secure justice for the Iraqi people,' as then Vice-President Joseph Biden publicly promised, overwhelmed prosecutorial discretion and resulted in a crabbed governmental mindset - not to follow the evidence proving justification and self-defense - but rather, to cobble together an inferential narrative to win at all costs and serve a foreign power, sacrificing protections provided to the (Biden 4) by the U.S. Constitution."
Others pardoned in the case included Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough and Dustin Heard, who have all been behind bars since Oct. 22, 2014.
The impetus for pardon gained steam this May 2020 when the Congressional Justice for Warriors Caucus sent a letter to President Trump urging him to see justice done.
Today, Evan Liberty is living happily, gainfully employed and thankful for his return to freedom and pursuit of happiness.
"I'm just super grateful for the second chance at life and thankful for all the people like you that made it possible," he told The Rochester Voice on Wednesday.
For anyone that doubts the pardons were justified read this Habeas Corpus motion from the Maher Legal Group of Geneva, Ill., below.