A federal grand jury issued a new murder indictment against two former Blackwater security workers, charging one defendant with using a machine gun but reducing an attempted murder charge against both.

The grand jury didn’t change the most serious charges against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon. They remain charged with second-degree murder and related counts in the May 5, 2009, shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals and the wounding of a third.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned next week on the new indictment, but the Sept. 14 trial date is not expected to change. The grand jury issued the indictment Aug. 5.

Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and Cannon, of Corpus Christi, Texas, were working for a subsidiary of Blackwater, also known as Xe, to train the Afghan police force in Kabul. The indictment alleges they were drinking that day when they became involved in a traffic accident and began firing their weapons at another car.

Drotleff and Cannon say they fired in self-defense, in fear for their lives, at a car that was speeding toward them. The government counters that the victims were all shot from behind.

The new indictment replaces a firearm charge against Cannon with use of a machine gun during the killings. The new charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison on conviction. The murder charge carries no minimum but a maximum of life in prison.

Court records say that Cannon was armed with an AK-47 machine gun that day, and Drotleff had a handgun. It has been unclear who fired at which victim.

Both men are charged with aiding and abetting each other in the murders of Rahib Mirza Mohammad and Romal Mohammad Naiem and the wounding of Fareed Haji Ahmad. Ahmad and Naiem were in the car; Mohammad was a pedestrian.

Source: Tim McGlone for The Virginian-Pilot.

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