A Hennepin County jury found Mohamed Noor guilty Tuesday of fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017, capping an often dramatic and high-profile case that drew international attention.
Jurors reached their verdict after about 10 hours of sequestered deliberations, convicting Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They acquitted him of the most serious count — second-degree murder. He is the first Minnesota police officer to be convicted of an on-duty killing.
Noor, 33, sat expressionless with his hands clasped in front of him as the verdict was read in court just before 5 p.m. One juror hung his head, while others sat calmly.
Noor stood from his attorneys’ table without looking back at his family in the public gallery and was handcuffed and taken into custody after jurors were dismissed. Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 7.
Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, dabbed a tissue to his eyes in the otherwise quiet courtroom. He and Damond’s father, John Ruszczyk, later joined Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman for a news conference that was followed across the world in Damond’s native Australia.
“Ironically, the Minneapolis Police Department emblem on the squad door reads, ‘To protect with courage and to serve with compassion,’ ” Don Damond said. “… But that night there was a tragic lapse of care and complete disregard for the sanctity of life. The evidence in this case clearly shows an egregious failure of the Minneapolis Police Department.”
The jury of two women and 10 men began their deliberations Monday afternoon after three weeks of contentious and conflicting testimony and hundreds of pieces of evidence including graphic police body-camera footage of the shooting’s aftermath in a south Minneapolis alley.
Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, were responding to Damond’s 911 call on July 15, 2017, about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home when Noor fired from the passenger seat and through Harrity’s open driver’s side window. Damond, who was struck in the abdomen, died at the scene.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Noor violated his training and national police standards when he shot Damond instead of identifying her first and addressing her verbally. Defense attorneys said Noor relied on common police training to eliminate a threat when she appeared next to his squad car in the middle of the night and raised her arm in a fashion that he interpreted as an ambush.
Don Damond and John Ruszczyk urged Minneapolis leaders to continue implementing systemic change to the department.
“I implore Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to do everything they can to ensure these essential human values are not just words on a car door,” Don Damond said, “but are lived values of every person in a police department who need a complete transformation of policing in Minneapolis and around the country.”
Both men, along with Justine Damond’s brother, sister-in-law and stepmother, were fixtures throughout the trial, sitting in the front row of the public gallery next to Noor’s wife and parents.
“We are satisfied with the outcome,” said John Ruszczyk. “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.”
Neither family showed overt reactions as the verdict was read, although Damond’s sister-in-law hugged Don Damond as jurors were polled individually about their verdict. Noor’s mother and wife leaned forward in their chairs in anticipation through the proceeding.
Noor’s attorneys and family left without commenting. Before the verdict, his father, Mohamed Abass, didn’t appear hopeful.
“We’re Muslims,” he said. “We will accept any outcome.”
Noor’s cousin Goth Ali, who attended the trial every day, broke down when the verdict was read.
“I’m crying because of how the case was handled,” the 32-year-old said afterward. “What happened was injustice. This is shocking. My cousin didn’t get a fair trial.”
Noor, who was fired from the department after the shooting, is the second officer in recent Minnesota history to be charged with an on-duty fatal shooting. St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in 2017 in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.
The prosecution’s sprawling case against Noor raised alarming questions about Minneapolis police conduct and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation of the shooting. Assistant Hennepin County attorneys Amy Sweasy and Patrick Lofton crafted a picture of police secrecy that enveloped the shooting from the immediate aftermath to trial, showing jurors that several officers turned off their body cameras at the scene, accusing a key supervisor of inventing the story that Noor and Harrity heard a loud noise on their squad before the shooting and calling out dozens of officers for refusing to speak with investigators until they were legally compelled by an investigative grand jury in early 2018.
Despite his attorneys’ unequivocal attack on the credibility of several Minneapolis police officers and the BCA, Freeman defended every previous officer-involved shooting investigation his office has reviewed — and cleared of criminal wrongdoing — as “superb.” Freeman said “initially” there were mistakes, but his office raised concerns that were rectified. “I’m pleased to report that both [Minneapolis police] and BCA have done an exemplary job” in other cases, he said.
“In every investigation I have been involved in, with the exception of the Noor case, the work was superb,” he added.
Freeman said the presumptive sentence for the third-degree murder conviction is 12½ years, and the manslaughter conviction four years. They will likely merge, he said.
Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, told jurors in his closing arguments Monday that the “bad investigation” should raise reasonable doubt about the state’s case.
Don Damond ended his statement by thanking prosecutors, investigators and community members who supported him and Justine Damond’s family.
“We’ve not walked this path alone,” Don Damond said. “This case is about Justine, and Justine lived to teach us about love. She lived to teach us about our own human potential. She taught us to live joyfully. She taught us to laugh, and she demonstrated what it means to live from the heart.”
“She was a living example of compassion. In her life she committed to transform humanity, and her legacy is continuing that work today.”