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U.S. judge grants bond to man in Afghan murder case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge agreed on Wednesday to release on bond one of two former contractors from the private security firm previously known as Blackwater Worldwide while they await retrial on charges they murdered two Afghans in Kabul.

District Judge Robert Doumar in Norfolk, Virginia, declared a mistrial earlier this week after the jury deadlocked on the charges against Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff.

They were charged earlier this year with 13 counts related to the shooting deaths of the two Afghans and wounding a third at an intersection in Kabul in 2009.

The judge set a new trial for March 2011 and agreed to allow Cannon's release on a $50,000 bond. He ordered that Cannon be subject to electronic monitoring and that he give up his passport, among other conditions.

Doumar determined that Drotleff could not be released due to a finding he was a danger to the community.

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.

The men had argued they were defending themselves as they drove Afghan translators to their homes when they were hit by a speeding car in 2009 and opened fire as the car tried to make another pass.

Prosecutors said the two men had been drinking alcohol and had left their base without authorization when they opened fire on the car as it tried to drive away. One person in the vehicle and another person on the street were shot and killed. The other passenger in the car was wounded.

The Blackwater firm is now called Xe.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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