MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Supreme Court has reversed Mohamed Noor’s conviction of third-degree depraved-mind murder in the death of Justine Ruszcyzk Damond in 2017.
On Wednesday in court filings, the state’s supreme court ruled to reverse the murder conviction of the former Minneapolis police officer and send the case to district court where he will be sentenced for his second-degree manslaughter conviction.
The ruling said that the mental state necessary for depraved-mind murder “is a generalized indifference to human life” that can’t exist when the defendant’s conduct is “directed with particularity at the person who is killed.”
According to the ruling, evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction since the “appellant’s conduct was directed with particularity at the person who was killed.”
In March, Noor’s attorney filed a petition asking the high court to hear the case after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year to uphold the 2019 conviction for the shooting death of Damond.
Noor has served nearly 30 months in prison so far. In June 2019, Noor was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison after the jury found him guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, second-degree murder. That same month, the Damond’s family received what was at the time the largest police settlement in Minneapolis history, in the amount of $20 million.
University of St. Thomas law professor Rachel Moran believes the third-degree murder statute is poorly written, leaving too much room for interpretation.
“It’s not a new charge but the debate is relatively new on whether it can apply when your contact is reckless or indifferent towards one person,” she said. “It’s a significant decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court to say the charge only applies when you are generally indifferent to the possibility of people losing their life.”
Family, Hennepin Co. Attorney React To Decision
The Ruszczyk family released the following statement following the court’s ruling:
Our family woke this morning to news of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision that Mohamed Noor’s depraved and senseless shooting of our beloved Justine does not count as murder under Minnesota law. We are again heartbroken, because we agreed with the trial court, lower appellate court, and, most importantly, the jury of Minnesota residents who believed it does. Their voices should be respected. It remains for Noor to be resentenced for his conviction of second-degree manslaughter, a conviction even he does not dispute. While his new punishment may be reduced from the 12.5 years currently on record, our family knows that Noor’s conduct is just as reprehensible today as when he killed her in 2017. The Supreme Court’s opinion simply cannot change that. We look now to the trial court to sentence Noor for manslaughter equitably, but harshly, in a manner that reflects the loss which our family, Justine’s friends and the entire Minneapolis community continue to endure.
The family’s attorney also released a statement:
What the Ruszczyk’s wanted, what the jury wanted and what society should want is accountability and justice – and by that, they mean that the punishment should fit the crime. There is no logical reason for someone who employed murderous means “directed with particularity at the person who was killed” – in this case, Justine – should be punished less than someone who causes the death of the same person with merely “a generalized indifference to human life.” By that logic, Noor should remain in prison for a good deal longer than his lawyers posit.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office is “disappointed” in the reversal. Read the full statement below.
We are disappointed that the Minnesota Supreme Court chose to reverse the third-degree murder conviction of Mohamed Noor. The court overruled prior case law supporting the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charging decision and we disagree with their analysis of the law. However, we respect and acknowledge that the Minnesota Supreme Court is the final arbiter in this matter. Accordingly, we must and do accept this result.
The court’s decision leaves intact the Manslaughter II guilty verdict by the jury against Mohamed Noor. Further, the Supreme Court notes in its opinion that Mohammed Noor has conceded that the evidence at trial was sufficient to support his conviction of second-degree manslaughter. His conviction was just. The case has been remanded to the trial court for sentencing and we will seek the maximum sentence possible.
Don Damond, Justine Ruszcyzk Damond’s fiance, also reacted to the news Wednesday afternoon:
My family and I are deeply saddened by the MN Supreme Court ruling to overturn the 3rd degree murder conviction of [Mohamed] Noor in the needless and reckless murder of Justine. 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. The Minneapolis Police Department has not made any meaningful progress towards transformation. And now Noor is not being held accountable for killing my fiancé, an innocent person who called police from our home to report a female in distress. I have lived with the tragic loss of Justine and none of this can hurt my heart more than it has been, but now it truly feels like there has been no justice for Justine.
On July 15, 2017, Damond had called 911 about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home. In court, Noor testified that he shot Damond after a hearing a loud noise and seeing a woman lift her hand outside the squad car. Prosecutors disputed there was a noise and argued that Noor had no reason to shoot a 40-year-old yoga teacher in her pajamas.
Because Damond was a dual citizen in the U.S. and Australia, the case gained international attention.
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