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Ex-Minneapolis officer convicted of murder in shooting death of Justine Damond

Mohamed Noor found guilty in deadly shooting
Former Minneapolis officer guilty in deadly shooting of Justine Damond 02:17

A Minnesota jury has found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 2017 shooting death of an unarmed woman, CBS Minnesota reported. Mohamed Noor stood trial in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual U.S.-Australian citizen who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home.

Noor was acquitted of second-degree murder, the station reported.

Mohamed Noor, left, in on trial in the fatal shooting of Justine Damond, right CBS Minnesota

The death of Damond, a 40-year-old life coach who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting, sparked outrage in both the U.S. and Australia. The incident cost Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau her job and contributed to the electoral defeat of the city's mayor a few months later.

The jury of 10 men and two women, which was sequestered, began deliberations Monday and reached their verdict after about 11 hours. 

Some members of Damond's family cried in the courtroom as the verdict was read, the station reports. Noor showed no emotion, but his wife cried. He was taken into custody after a judge denied a request for bail ahead of his June 7 sentencing. 

Speaking after the verdict was announced, Justine's father John Ruszczyk described a "painful journey" for the family and said they are satisfied with with the outcome of the case.

"The jury's decision reflects the community's commitment to three important pillars of a civil society -- the rule of law, the respect for the sanctity of life, and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect," Ruszczyk said. "We believe this guilty verdict strengthens those pillars." 

Ruszczyk said the conviction was reached "despite the active resistance" of some Minneapolis police officers and what he called "resistance or gross incompetence" in the initial state investigation.

Don Damond: Family 'Satisfied' With Noor's Conviction

"Justine was killed by a police officer, an agent of the state. We believe he was properly charged with a crime. ... We are satisfied with the outcome. The jury's decision reflects the community's commitment to three important pillars of a civil society -- the rule of law, the respect for the sanctity of life, and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect. We believe this guilty verdict strengthens those pillars. We hope this will be a catalyst for further change. We would like to note that we believe the conviction was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis officers, including the head of their union, and either active resistance or gross incompetence of the BCA."-- Don Damond, father of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, upon the conviction of former MPD officer Mohamed Noor

Posted by WCCO-TV | CBS Minnesota on Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Attorneys for Noor, 33, argued that he was justified in using deadly force to protect himself and partner Matthew Harrity from a perceived threat. Prosecutors have argued there was no reasonable threat, and questioned Noor's claim that he was startled by a bang on the squad car, which he did not mention in the initial investigation.

The jury heard nearly three weeks of testimony, including that of Noor himself, who gave his account for the first time publicly at trial. Noor testified he felt he had no other choice but to shoot to protect his partner in the moments after a "loud bang" on his squad car made him fear a possible ambush. 

Noor testified that after he heard the loud noise, he saw fear in Harrity's eyes and heard his partner yell, "Oh Jesus!" as he went for his weapon. Noor said Harrity was having difficulty pulling his gun from his holster. Noor said he then saw a woman in a pink shirt with blond hair appear at Harrity's window and raise her right arm.

"I had to make a split-second decision," Noor testified.

Noor's voice often cracked as he testified, CBS Minnesota reported, and he repeatedly referred to Damond as "the threat." But prosecutor Amy Sweasy questioned why Noor perceived a threat at all, especially after he affirmed he couldn't see the woman's hands or any weapon.

Jurors also heard from Harrity, who testified the sound made him fearful, but that he felt deadly force was premature.

Jury deliberates case of Minneapolis officer who shot and killed yoga teacher 02:54

Neither officer had a body camera running when Damond was shot, something Harrity blamed on what he called a vague policy that didn't require it. The department strengthened the policy after Damond's death to require that the cameras be turned on when responding to a call.

Both men switched on their cameras in time to capture the aftermath, which included their attempts to save Damond with CPR. But Noor's bullet hit her in a key abdominal artery, and a medical examiner testified she lost so much blood so quickly that even faster medical care might not have saved her.

Prosecutors sought to raise questions about the way police and state investigators handled the aftermath. They played excerpts from body cameras worn by responding officers that revealed many officers turning them on and off at will; one officer could be heard on his camera at one point telling Noor to "keep your mouth shut until you have to say anything to anybody." They also highlighted the lack of forensic evidence proving Damond touched the squad car.

But the case still came down to jurors' assessment of whether Noor was justified in shooting, and they had only the officers' testimony for a picture of the key moments. During his closing argument Monday, defense attorney Thomas Plunkett told jurors all that mattered was the "precise moment" in which Noor fired his gun and that they needed to consider whether Noor acted as a reasonable officer would act in the same circumstances. Sweasy argued the shooting was not justified.  

The jury considered three charges against Noor. They acquitted Noor of second-degree murder, which would have required a finding of intent to kill, but no premeditation. The third-degree murder conviction required a finding that Noor acted recklessly and with a "depraved" mind, but with no intent to kill. Noor was also convicted of second-degree manslaughter, which required a finding that Noor acted with "culpable negligence" and created an "unreasonable risk" of causing death or great bodily harm.

The presumptive sentence for third-degree murder is about 12½ years, and the presumptive sentence for second-degree manslaughter is about 4½ years.

Noor is a Somali-American whose hiring in 2015 was trumpeted by city leaders seeking to diversify the police force. Damond was white. Noor was fired after being charged.

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