Minnesota’s Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the third-degree murder conviction of Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis cop who was sentenced to 12 and half years in prison for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017. Noor is of Somali heritage.
According to CBS Minnesota, the state’s Supreme Court wrote that the mental state that forms the basis for a depraved-mind murder or a third-degree murder “is a generalized indifference to human life” that is impossible to exist when the defendant’s actions are “directed with particularity at the person who is killed.”
“In short, what this opinion says is that third-degree murder can’t apply when there’s a specific victim that a person is aiming for,” University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler explained.
The court, therefore, ruled on Wednesday that the evidence to sustain Noor’s 2019 conviction is insufficient as the “appellant’s conduct was directed with particularity at the person who was killed.” The case has since been referred to a district court to resentence Noor for his second-degree manslaughter conviction. The former police officer has been incarcerated for almost 30 months.
The ruling by the state Supreme Court comes after the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld Noor’s conviction after his attorneys filed an appeal. The decision by the appeals court was also issued this year.
Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter by a jury for shooting and killing Damond in 2017. The deceased White woman had called police to report a possible sexual assault around her house in 2017. Noor and his partner responded to the scene.
During the trial, Noor spoke about the moment he shot the 40-year-old Australian yoga teacher and life coach who was just a month away from her wedding when she was killed. “If I knew this would happen, I would never have become a cop,” Noor told the jury.
The former cop also claimed he opened fire because he feared his partner’s life could be in danger. He also said he thought they were being ambushed when Damond came close to their squad car which was parked in an isolated alley. Before the incident, city officials had celebrated Noor after he became the precinct’s first Somali American police officer in a state with a large Somali population.
Until the Supreme Court’s decision, Noor was Minnesota’s first police officer to be convicted of murder while on duty. The other officer in the state’s history to be found guilty for an on-duty murder is Derek Chauvin – the former cop who was convicted this year for killing George Floyd, Star Tribune reported.
The ruling could give former Minneapolis cop Chauvin grounds to contest his own third-degree murder conviction for Floyd’s death, according to a report by the Guardian. “But that wouldn’t have much impact on Chauvin since he was also convicted of the more serious count of second-degree murder,” the report added.
The Supreme Court’s ruling could see Noor’s sentence being reduced by 8 years. Responding to the decision by the high court in a statement, Ruszczyk’s family said they are once again “heartbroken” because they “agreed with the trial court, lower appellate court, and, most importantly, the jury of Minnesota residents who believed” the murder conviction was justified.
“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,” the statement continued. “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.”
The family added: “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.”
Damond’s family reached a $20 million settlement for her killing with the city of Minneapolis in 2019. That was the largest police settlement in the city’s history at the time.