The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the third-degree murder conviction of Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of shooting and killing an unarmed Australian woman in 2017.
Noor was convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison. At the time, he was the first police officer in Minnesota convicted in an on-duty shooting in decades.
The Minnesota Supreme Court said in its ruling that the third-degree murder conviction cannot be sustained in Noor's case because his actions were directed at the person who was killed.
Under Minnesota state law, third-degree murder is defined as when someone "causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others."
Noor's attorneys and Hennepin County prosecutors have argued over whether "others" means multiple people, rather than just the person killed.
The state Supreme Court sided with Noor's attorneys on Wednesday. The conviction, it said, required evidence of a "generalized indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant’s conduct is directed with particularity at the person who is killed," and therefore it cannot be sustained.
Noor's trial received international attention due to his and Damond's race and nationalities. He was the Minneapolis Police Department's first Somali American officer, whose hiring was celebrated by the city as an effort to reach out to its large Somali refugee population. Damond, a 40-year-old white woman, was a yoga teacher and life coach from Australia, and she was killed a month before her wedding to her American fiancé.
On July 15, 2019, Noor and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, responded to a 911 call from Damond, who reported hearing a woman "making sex noises" in an alley behind her house. Damond told the dispatcher that she wasn’t sure if the woman was "having sex or being raped."
Noor testified that they heard a "loud bang" on the police car as they drove through the alley. Harrity screamed at the sound and tried to draw his gun, but it was caught on his holster, and he turned to Noor "with fear in his eyes," Noor said.
Noor said he believed that his partner feared for his life, and he wanted to "stop the threat." Damond was unarmed and holding her iPhone in her hand during the encounter.
"If I knew this would happen, I would never have become a cop," Noor said in his testimony.
An appellate court earlier this year upheld Noor's third-degree murder conviction, saying it stands "even if the death-causing act was directed at a single person."
That ruling was cited in March by Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the Derek Chauvin case, as a reason he reinstated the third-degree murder charge against the former police officer who killed George Floyd. Cahill said at the time that he was "bound" by the Court of Appeals' ruling on Noor's third-degree murder conviction.
Chauvin was ultimately convicted of second and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. Under Minnesota guidelines, he was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for the most serious conviction only, second-degree murder.
Noor's sentence was for the third-degree murder charge. He will be resentenced in district court for his second-degree manslaughter conviction, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman said the county will "seek the maximum sentence possible" for Noor's second-degree manslaughter conviction.