WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Blackwater Worldwide security contractor was sentenced on Tuesday to 37 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter involving the shooting deaths of two Afghans in Kabul.
A federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, gave the prison term, followed by three years of probation, at a sentencing hearing for Christopher Drotleff, 31, a Virginia Beach resident, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Drotleff and another contractor, Justin Cannon, were convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter in the death of two Afghans and for injuring a third at a Kabul intersection in 2009. They were acquitted on more serious charges.
Cannon's sentencing has been scheduled for June 27.
"Christopher Drotleff recklessly fired his nine millimeter pistol at unarmed Afghan civilians, killing two people and shattering the lives of many more," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement.
"The jury's verdict and today's sentence shows that no one is above the law -- even in a combat zone -- and that the reckless use of force will be punished."
Private contractors have been criticized for their conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. government has been under pressure to control them better to reduce civilian casualties.
Attorneys for Cannon and Drotleff had argued they were defending themselves as they drove Afghan translators to their homes when they were hit by a speeding car in 2009. They opened fire as the car tried to make another pass.
Federal prosecutors said the two men had been drinking alcohol and opened fire on the car as it tried to drive away.
According to a May 8 letter sent to the court from General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the shooting seriously harmed the mission there and put the lives of American military and civilians in danger.
Blackwater is now called Xe Services.
(Reporting by James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Christopher Wilson)