St. Paul, MN – The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Australian Justine Ruszczyk Damond in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report a crime behind her home
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Damond in April of 2019.
But on Sept. 15, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the third-degree murder conviction and Noor’s case was kicked back to the district court for resentencing on the manslaughter conviction, the Associated Press reported.
The court’s ruling said that Noor’s actions were directed “with particularity,” and therefore did not meet the “depraved-mind” requirement for third-degree murder, KARE reported.
He had been sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for the murder conviction in June of 2019.
The former Minneapolis police officer has already served 28 months of his sentence, the Associated Press reported.
If the lower court gives him the presumptive four-year sentence for the second-degree manslaughter conviction, Noor would be eligible for supervised release before the end of this year.
Noor’s team initially appealed the murder conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in February and that court upheld it, KARE reported.
Then Noor’s team filed a petition for review to the Minnesota Supreme Court and the justices took up the case.
Noor’s attorney, Caitlinrose Fisher, argued to the state’s highest court in June that the “depraved mind” element of a third-degree murder conviction required that the “eminently dangerous” act is not directed a particular person, KARE reported.
Court documents showed Fisher argued that the Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld that requirement for more than a century and in 20 separate decisions, and therefore should not override its own precedent.
“This has been and is intended to be a narrow crime,” she said. “When we’re talking about treating an unintentional death as a murder, that is a narrow class of cases.”
Noor’s attorneys have not asked for his manslaughter conviction to be overturned, according to KARE.
The court’s ruling could give former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin grounds to contest his own third-degree murder conviction in the death of George Floyd, the Associated Press reported.
However, it’s unlikely to have a noticeable impact because he was also convicted of the more serious count of second-degree murder.
The ruling in Noor’s case may have also affected the futures of the three other former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death, the Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors had planned to add the additional charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against them but that is considered unlikely to happen now.
Then-Officer Noor fatally shot Damond on July 15, 2017, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The now-infamous shooting of an Australian woman who called police to report a suspected crime in the alley behind her house occurred when 32-year-old Officer Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, responded to Damond’s 911 call, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
With Officer Noor in the passenger seat, Officer Harrity pulled into the alleyway behind Damond’s house with the patrol car’s headlights deactivated and removed the safety hood from the holster of his duty weapon.
He said that he heard a dog barking as he neared Damond’s home, and that he slowed the vehicle to two miles per hour, but never stopped.
Approximately two minutes later, the officers approached the end of the alley, and waited for a bicyclist to pass as they cleared from the call.
Officer Harrity said that moments later, he heard a voice and a thump towards the rear of the patrol car, and then “caught a glimpse of a person’s head and shoulders outside his window.”
He said that the person, later identified as Damond, was approximately two feet away, and that he could not see her hands, and did not know if she had any weapons.
The startled officer recalled having said, “Oh s-t,” or “Oh Jesus,” and grabbed for his duty weapon, believing his life was in danger. He said he drew the weapon and held it to his rib cage, pointed downwards.
Officer Harrity said that he then heard a noise “that sounded like a light bulb dropping on the floor and saw a flash.”
After checking to see if he had been shot, Officer Harrity said he realized that Officer Noor’s right arm was extended towards him, and that Damond was standing outside the driver’s side window with her hands on the left side of her abdomen, covering a gunshot wound.
She said, “‘I’m dying,’ or ‘I’m dead,’” according to the court documents.
Officer Harrity rushed to her aid and told Officer Noor to re-holster his weapon and to activate his bodycam.
He initiated CPR, and Officer Noor eventually took over. Damond died at the scene.
At trial, Officer Noor claimed he had no other choice but to shoot Damond, and that he did not need to wait to see a weapon in order to respond with deadly force.
Officers can use deadly force before they see a weapon, but only if a reasonable officer in that same situation would have believed that the suspect posed a deadly threat.
Noor offered no reasonable explanation for why he thought Damond was a threat at all.
Officer Harrity testified at trial that he was also spooked by the loud noise but thought use of deadly force was premature.