The Minnesota Supreme Court vacated a former officer’s third-degree murder conviction on Wednesday.
Mohamed Noor was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison in 2019 in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. But on Wednesday, the state’s highest court tossed the conviction, finding that there was insufficient evidence and ordering that Noor be re-sentenced on a conviction for second-degree manslaughter, a lesser charge.
The decision comes after the court reviewed Noor’s appeal. Noor, a Somali-American, was 33 at the time of the shooting.
An attorney said following the decision, “That law is simply that an individual cannot depraved-mind murder if their conduct is focused on a specific, particular person, as was the case here,” KARE 11 reported.
Third-degree murder is sometimes called depraved-mind murder. Noor’s second-degree manslaughter conviction stands, and because he has already spent 29 months in prison, resentencing could result in his release as early as next month if the judge follows the presumptive sentencing guidelines.
He could also be eligible for supervised release at the end of the year
On July 15, 2017, 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk called 911 to report what she thought may have been a woman being raped outside her Minneapolis home.
“I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped … I think she just yelled out ‘help,’ but it’s difficult,” she told a 911 operator at 11:27 p.m.
Ruszczyk called back a few minutes later to check on when officers would be there. Moments later, Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity arrived on the scene, pulling their police SUV into an alley behind Damond’s home.
The two men were wearing body cameras that night, but the actual shooting was not caught on camera.
Noor and Harrity, who was the driver, told authorities they had scanned the dark alley for signs of trouble and were preparing to leave when they heard a sudden bang from the driver’s side of the car. Noor reacted by firing one shot across his partner through the driver’s side window, striking Damond in the abdomen.
The woman, dressed in nightclothes and holding a cellphone, apparently had gone unseen by the two officers when she approached the police vehicle and tried to get their attention by hitting the driver door with her hand.
“She just came up outta nowhere,” Harrity is heard saying on body camera footage.
Noor testified during the trial that he feared for his partner’s life, while prosecutors claimed he overreacted and emphasized that Damond had called 911 then ended up dead with nothing but a cellphone in her hand.
Noor was convicted on April 30, 2019, on charges of third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, but the jury acquitted him of the most serious charge of second-degree murder.
Three days later the city of Minneapolis settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Damond’s family for $20 million.
This week’s court decision overturning the conviction has raised questions about a potentially broader impact on the Derek Chauvin case, who was also convicted of third-degree murder, along with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.
But Mary Moriarty, the former chief Hennepin County public defender, told CNN she doesn’t believe the decision will impact the Chauvin case because his second-degree murder conviction hasn’t been reversed.
Noor’s attorneys and family members praised the court’s decision in a statement, writing, “We have always maintained that this was a tragic case, and we are grateful for an exceptionally well-reasoned and unanimous opinion from this State’s highest court.”
Don Damond, Ruszczyk’s fiancé, was disappointed by the decision. “My family and I are deeply saddened by the MN Supreme Court ruling to overturn the 3rd degree murder conviction of Mohamad Noor in the needless and reckless murder of Justine,” he said.
“In many ways, this has felt like a double blow against justice. My hope and work since Justine’s death has been to try to prevent a further loss of life at the hands of stressed and inadequately trained police officers.”