A jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty of third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. The jury of ten men and two women acquitted Noor on an additional count of second-degree murder in the killing. Noor faces up to 12 and a half years for third-degree murder and four years for second-degree manslaughter. His sentencing date is set for June 7.
For each charge, the jury had to unanimously decide whether they believed Noor was guilty or not guilty. Each charge Noor faced involved causing the death of Ruszczyk, but the three counts have different elements. Second-degree murder means killing someone intentionally, but without premeditation. Third-degree murder includes acting with a “depraved mind” — shooting without knowing the target — and “without regard for human life” in causing someone’s death, but without intending to do so. Second-degree manslaughter is acting in a negligent way and creating an “unreasonable risk” in actions that cause death.
Noor’s lawyer said a “perfect storm” of events led him to open fire on Ruszczyk the night of July 15, 2017, when she called 911 to report a possible assault in progress in an alley behind her Minneapolis home. Ruszczyk called police twice that night — once to report a possible assault, then to see where officers were. When they arrived on the scene, Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity drove down an alley in south Minneapolis with their squad car’s lights down. They drove slowly and quietly.
Then, Harrity testified, he heard a “thump” and a “murmur.” Ruszczyk approached the officers on their vehicle’s driver’s side. Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot Ruszczyk through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle as she approached his police cruiser in her pajamas. Noor testified that he feared for his partner’s life as Ruszczyk approached their squad car in the dark, empty alley. But Hennepin County prosecutors said Noor overreacted and failed to properly assess the situation before firing a gunshot into Ruszczyk’s abdomen. Ruszczyk was pronounced dead on the scene.
Sixty witnesses testified during the nearly month-long trial, including use-of-force experts, neighbors, and Noor’s partner, Matthew Harrity. Harrity was behind the wheel of their squad car when Noor shot Ruszczyk from the passenger seat. He testified that he was startled by a noise on the rear driver’s side door as Ruszczyk approached the vehicle. Noor testified that Harrity’s terrified expression and the sight of Ruszczyk with her hand raised jolted him into action. Although he did not see a gun in Ruszczyks’ hand, he feared his partner might be shot as she began to raise her hand, he said.
Experts differed on whether Noor’s use of force was reasonable or justified. The prosecution’s use of force expert said that Noor’s use of deadly force was unreasonable. Being “startled” is different than “fearing death or great bodily harm.” The defense’s use of force expert said Noor’s conduct was an “objectively reasonable” response to the situation. “It’s late at night. It’s dark in the alley,” Kapelsohn said, noting Noor heard his partner say “oh Jesus.”