The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the third-degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis cop who gunned down an Australian woman in 2017, likely leading to his prison sentence being slashed by eight years.
Wednesday’s decision rejected a February ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that upheld the conviction against Mohamed Noor in the July 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, the Star Tribune reported.
Noor was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison in 2019 after being convicted by a jury of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for shooting the unarmed yoga teacher who was engaged to be married while responding to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault in an alley behind her home.
Noor was not sentenced on the manslaughter count, meaning his case will now go back to district court for him to be sentenced. He has already served more than 28 months on the murder conviction and could be eligible for supervised release by the end of the year if he receives the presumptive four years for manslaughter, the Associated Press reported.
The ruling said that for a third-degree murder charge, or “depraved-mind murder,” the person’s mental state must show a “generalized indifference to human life,” which cannot exist because Noor’s actions were directed at a single person.
“The only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the circumstances proved is that appellant’s conduct was directed with particularity at the person who was killed, and the evidence is therefore insufficient to sustain his conviction … for depraved-mind murder,” according to the ruling.
Wednesday’s reversal affirmed what Noor’s attorneys have been claimed since his trial.
An attorney for Noor argued that the depraved mind element wasn’t met since the officer was carrying out his duties at the time and acted in a split second out of fear that his partner’s life was in danger, according to the newspaper.
“We may very well agree that Noor’s decision to shoot a deadly weapon simply because he was startled was disproportionate and unreasonable,” the ruling read. “Noor’s conduct is especially troubling given the trust that citizens should be able to place in our peace officers. But the tragic circumstances of this case do not change the fact that Noor’s conduct was directed with particularity toward Ruszczyk.”
Damond, a dual US-Australian citizen, was killed after she called 911 to report a possible rape near her Minneapolis home. Noor and another cop responded to the call when Damond approached the squad car to speak to Noor’s partner in the driver’s seat.
Noor testified at trial that he fired on Damond because he heard a loud bang on the driver’s door and thought his partner’s life was in danger. Police were never able to conclude if a sexual assault had occurred in the woman’s neighborhood, NBC News reported.
Wednesday’s ruling was closely watched for its possible impact on the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, but he was also convicted on a more serious charge of second-degree murder in George Floyd’s death. The 45-year-old ex-cop was sentenced in June to 22 ½ years in prison.
The ruling is also expected to impact the case against three other former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial in Floyd’s death, as prosecutors are now unlikely to add charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, according to the Associated Press.
An attorney for Noor, meanwhile, praised the high court’s ruling, saying she hopes it leads to more consistency during charging decisions.
“We’ve said from the beginning that this was a tragedy but it wasn’t a murder, and now the Supreme Court agrees and recognizes that,” attorney Caitlinrose Fisher said.
With Post wires