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A note from Gina Keating...

One morning in April of 2015, my Shih Tzu, Jessica Simpson, stole a Wall Street Journal from a neighbor’s yard and dragged it to the back door. I didn’t know which neighbor she had stolen from, so I guiltily kept the newspaper and my boyfriend Joe Cumpton and I read it over breakfast. We were deep into the paper, when he looked up, puzzled, and said, “This can’t be the same guy.”

 

He showed me the article he was reading -- about four Blackwater military contractors who had been sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for supposedly killing and wounding dozens of civilians in a place called Nisour Square in Baghdad. 

 

My initial reaction was that they had probably done exactly what they were accused of: I held a dim opinion of the Iraq War, Blackwater Worldwide and military contractors. 

 

“You need to look into this story,” he told me. “I know this kid,” he said, pointing to a photo of Dustin Heard. “I grew up with his dad -- he did not do this.” 

 

I looked at him like he was crazy. “No way!” I told him “I don’t know the first thing about Iraq or the military. I cover entertainment companies. Besides, there is no way these families or these guys are going to talk to a journalist from LA after what’s been written about them.”

 

“This is an important story,” he told me. 

 

He wouldn’t let it go, and eight months later, I met Stacey Heard and his family in Olney, Texas. I read the trial transcripts. I visited three of the four men in prison (the warden canceled my visit with Nick Slatten day before I was to arrive at the prison). 

 

I hated to admit it but Joe was right. This is the most important story I have ever pursued in thirty years of reporting on everything from politics to criminal trials to earnings reports. The most terrifying aspect of this case is the government’s undisguised abuse of power. It is difficult to persuade people that the evidence is right before their eyes -- in the transcripts, in the trial exhibits, in the court records. 

 

For three long years, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face. No one wanted to hear about Blackwater or the Iraq war -- until I teamed up with Micheal Flaherty on another project and I begged him to listen to my pitch for Raven 23. 

 

He immediately understood what was at stake -- the precious concept upon which our justice system and our nation are built -- the presumption of innocence. He mobilized a circle of friends who value liberty and justice as much as he does, and brought new life and focus to this project. For that, the families of Raven 23 and I are immensely grateful.

 

We have come so far yet much remains to be done: Nick Slatten faces the prospect of dying in prison on a false murder charge if he is not pardoned. Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough are set to be resentenced on Sept. 5, 2019, after an appeals court ruled their 30-year sentenced cruel and unusual punishment. These men should be released on time served, exonerated and made whole by the government that wrongly tried, convicted and imprisoned them. 

 

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Meet The Team

Micheal Flaherty

Mike Flaherty co-founded Walden Media in 1999, where he served as President for more than 15 years. During that time, Walden developed, produced, and financed nearly two dozen movies that grossed over $3 billion at the global box office, including The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, Holes, The Giver, Charlotte's Web, and Amazing Grace.

 

Since then, he has served as an Executive Producer on The Little Prince which won the 2017 BAFTA Award and the star-studded Mother's Day. He was also an Executive Producer on the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award for the film Step which was later purchased and distributed by Fox Searchlight.

Gina Keating

Gina Keating was a staff reporter for Reuters and United Press International for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in Variety, Southern Living, and Forbes. 

 

She is the author of the book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs, which recounts the fast-paced drama of the company’s turbulent rise to the top and its attempt to invent two new kinds of business. First it engaged in a grueling war against videostore behemoth Blockbuster, transforming movie rental forever. Then it jumped into an even bigger battle for online video streaming against Google, Hulu, Amazon, and the big cable companies.