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Minneapolis officer convicted of murder in 911 caller death

Published
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks through the skyway with his attorney Thomas Plunkett, right, on the way to court for the verdict Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, Minn. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis police officer was convicted of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape, a rare guilty verdict for an officer asserting he faced a life-or-death situation.

Mohamed Noor was also found guilty of manslaughter in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond , a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia whose death bewildered and angered people in both countries.

Noor, a two-year veteran who testified that he shifted to policing from a career in business because he "always wanted to serve," was acquitted of the most serious charge of intentional second-degree murder.

Minnesota sentencing guidelines call for up to 15 years on the murder conviction and nearly five years on the manslaughter conviction, although judges aren't bound by the guidelines and can impose much lower sentences.

Noor was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately despite his attorney's request that he be free on bond. He'll be sentenced June 7. He showed no visible emotion and did not look back at his family, but his wife was crying.

Members of Damond's family, also in the courtroom, showed no evident emotion.

Besides the tragic circumstances of the shooting, the case carried elements of race and immigration. Damond, 40, was white; Noor, 33, is among the many Somali immigrants who settled in Minnesota after coming to America due to civil war in his home country. His hiring was celebrated by city leaders eager to diversify the police force in a city rich in immigrants; after he was charged, he was fired.

The verdict came swiftly, with the jury deliberating about 11½ hours over two days.

Damond's father, John Ruszczyk, said the family was satisfied. He said the jury's decision reflected respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of life.

"Justine was killed by a police officer, an agent of the state," he said. "We believe he was properly charged with a crime."

Ruszczyk also bitterly criticized police, saying the family believes "the conviction was reached despite the active resistance of a number of Minneapolis police officers, including the head of the union, and either active resistance or gross incompetence" by state investigators early on.

Noor's attorneys weren't immediately available for comment.

Minnesota's third-degree murder charge means causing the death of another through a dangerous act "without regard for human life but without intent to cause" death. Second-degree manslaughter is defined as creating unreasonable risk of causing death or great bodily harm to another through culpable negligence.

"This is a solid jury verdict and we believe it will be upheld on appeal," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said.

Noor and his partner were rolling down the alley behind Damond's home and checking out the 911 call just before the shooting. Noor testified that a loud bang on the squad car scared his partner and that he saw a woman raising her arm appear at his partner's window. He said he fired to protect his partner's life.

Prosecutors attacked Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond's hands. They also questioned whether the loud bang was real. Neither Noor nor his partner, Matthew Harrity, mentioned it to investigators at the scene, with Harrity first mentioning it three days later in an interview with state investigators. Noor refused to talk to investigators.

The death of Damond, a life coach who was engaged to be married a month after the shooting, sparked outrage in both the U.S. and Australia. It also cost Minneapolis' police chief her job and contributed to the electoral defeat of the city's mayor a few months later.

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. 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. Prosecutor Amy Sweasy argued the shooting was not justified.

In his only public statement about the shooting, 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 fired one shot," he said, later adding: "My intent was to stop the threat and save my partner's life."

Harrity was pressed by prosecutors about why he didn't fire. He said he hadn't evaluated whether there was a threat by the time Noor fired. When Sweasy asked Harrity whether it would have been premature for him to use deadly force, he said: "Yes, with what I had."

Both officers testified of their trust and high regard for each other. Both cried at points during their testimony.

The jury included 10 men and two women. Six of the jurors, including the two women, are people of color.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

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Check out the AP's complete coverage of Mohamed Noor's trial.

This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor listening to the verdict, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, during his trial in the fatal shooting of unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017, after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and also found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor heads into Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis to hear the verdict in his trial, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
John Ruszczyk addresses the media Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty of murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the shooting death of Ruszczyk's daughter, Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The Australian-American, Damond, 40, had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Justine Damond's family heads into the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Damond, an unarmed woman who called 911, has revealed possible missteps by police and investigators. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP, File)
Sarah Kuhnen, a neighbor and friend to Justine Ruszczyk Damond, with Justice for Justine, speaks to the media following the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, at the Government Center Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman, Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
Ryan Masterson and his wife Jenelle Masterson, right, hugged Sarah Kuhnen after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. They are all neighbors and friends of Justine and members of Justice for Justine. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
FILE - In this Friday, April 26, 2019, file photo, former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks to court in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, April 30m 2019, a jury of 10 men and two women found Noor guilty of third-degree murder but acquitted of the more serious second-degree intentional murder. He also was convicted of manslaughter in the 2017 death of an unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP, File)
This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on the witness stand Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Minneapolis during his trial in the fatally shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor testified Thursday that he saw fear in his partner's eyes, then saw a woman in a pink shirt with blond hair appear at the partner's window and raise her right arm before he fired his gun
This courtroom sketch depicts prosecutor Amy Sweasy, center, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019 in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
This courtroom sketch depicts defense attorney Thomas Plunkett, left, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman who approached his squad car.;
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center left, walks into the Hennepin County Courthouse for the verdict in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond with his lawyers Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, right, in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Noor was convicted later of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
A memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond is seen near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car after she called 911. Mohamed Noor was charged in the July 2017 death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia.  (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
A cross stands at the memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor has been found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the July 2017 fatal shooting of Damond, who had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
FILE - In this Friday, April 26, 2019, file photo, former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks to court in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, April 30m 2019, a jury of 10 men and two women found Noor guilty of third-degree murder but acquitted of the more serious second-degree intentional murder. He also was convicted of manslaughter in the 2017 death of an unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP, File)
FILE - In this Friday, April 26, 2019, file photo, former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks to court in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, April 30m 2019, a jury of 10 men and two women found Noor guilty of third-degree murder but acquitted of the more serious second-degree intentional murder. He also was convicted of manslaughter in the 2017 death of an unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP, File)
This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on the witness stand Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Minneapolis during his trial in the fatally shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor testified Thursday that he saw fear in his partner's eyes, then saw a woman in a pink shirt with blond hair appear at the partner's window and raise her right arm before he fired his gun
This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on the witness stand Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Minneapolis during his trial in the fatally shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor testified Thursday that he saw fear in his partner's eyes, then saw a woman in a pink shirt with blond hair appear at the partner's window and raise her right arm before he fired his gun "to stop the threat." (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor heads into Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis to hear the verdict in his trial, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor heads into Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis to hear the verdict in his trial, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks through the skyway with his attorney Thomas Plunkett, right, on the way to court for the verdict Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, Minn. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks through the skyway with his attorney Thomas Plunkett, right, on the way to court for the verdict Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, Minn. The Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman who approached his squad car.;
A Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman who approached his squad car.;
This courtroom sketch depicts prosecutor Amy Sweasy, center, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019 in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
This courtroom sketch depicts prosecutor Amy Sweasy, center, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019 in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
A cross stands at the memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor has been found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the July 2017 fatal shooting of Damond, who had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
A cross stands at the memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor has been found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the July 2017 fatal shooting of Damond, who had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center left, walks into the Hennepin County Courthouse for the verdict in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond with his lawyers Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, right, in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Noor was convicted later of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center left, walks into the Hennepin County Courthouse for the verdict in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond with his lawyers Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, right, in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Noor was convicted later of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
John Ruszczyk addresses the media Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty of murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the shooting death of Ruszczyk's daughter, Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The Australian-American, Damond, 40, had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
John Ruszczyk addresses the media Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor guilty of murder in the third degree and manslaughter in the shooting death of Ruszczyk's daughter, Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The Australian-American, Damond, 40, had called 911 just minutes before she was shot to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
This courtroom sketch depicts defense attorney Thomas Plunkett, left, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
This courtroom sketch depicts defense attorney Thomas Plunkett, left, speaking during closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
Justine Damond's family heads into the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
Justine Damond's family heads into the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
A memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond is seen near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car after she called 911. Mohamed Noor was charged in the July 2017 death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia.  (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
A memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond is seen near the alley where she was killed in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. A Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman who approached his squad car after she called 911. Mohamed Noor was charged in the July 2017 death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)
Ryan Masterson and his wife Jenelle Masterson, right, hugged Sarah Kuhnen after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. They are all neighbors and friends of Justine and members of Justice for Justine. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
Ryan Masterson and his wife Jenelle Masterson, right, hugged Sarah Kuhnen after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in Minneapolis, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. They are all neighbors and friends of Justine and members of Justice for Justine. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)
This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor listening to the verdict, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, during his trial in the fatal shooting of unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017, after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and also found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
This courtroom sketch depicts former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor listening to the verdict, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis, during his trial in the fatal shooting of unarmed Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in July 2017, after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and also found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. (Cedric Hohnstadt via AP)
Sarah Kuhnen, a neighbor and friend to Justine Ruszczyk Damond, with Justice for Justine, speaks to the media following the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, at the Government Center Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman, Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
Sarah Kuhnen, a neighbor and friend to Justine Ruszczyk Damond, with Justice for Justine, speaks to the media following the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, at the Government Center Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Minneapolis. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of the unarmed woman, Damond, who approached his squad car minutes after calling 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Damond, an unarmed woman who called 911, has revealed possible missteps by police and investigators. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Ruszczyk Damond at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Damond, an unarmed woman who called 911, has revealed possible missteps by police and investigators. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP, File)