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A Minneapolis Cop Was Found Guilty Of Murder For Fatally Shooting An Unarmed Australian Yoga Teacher

Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder for killing Justine Ruszczyk Damond after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.

Last updated on April 30, 2019, at 7:13 p.m. ET

Posted on April 30, 2019, at 6:13 p.m. ET

Mohamed Noor (left) with his attorneys.
Kerem Yucel / AFP / Getty Images

Mohamed Noor (left) with his attorneys.

Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis cop, was found guilty of murder for fatally shooting an unarmed Australian woman who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.

A jury on Tuesday convicted Noor, 33, on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was found not guilty of the most severe charge of second-degree murder.

After a monthlong trial, the jury began deliberating Monday evening and reached its verdict Tuesday evening after roughly 10 hours. Noor will be sentenced June 7.

During the trial, Noor broke 18 months of silence since the 2017 shooting to testify about the moment he opened fire on Damond. Damond was a 40-year-old yoga teacher and life coach who was engaged to her American fiancé, Don Damond.

She was 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, according to transcripts of the dramatic testimony.

Noor, a Somali American, had refused to speak to investigators, make a public statement, or attend a grand jury hearing after the shooting.

He repeatedly said on the stand that he made a “split-second decision” to shoot Damond because he believed that his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, feared for his life on July 15, 2017.

Justine Ruszczyk Damond
Handout / Reuters

Justine Ruszczyk Damond

That night, Damond had called 911 twice to report hearing a woman "making sex noises” in the alley behind her house. She told the dispatcher that she wasn't sure "if she’s having sex or being raped."

Noor and Harrity responded to the call in their squad car, which Harrity drove through the dark alley to search for the source of the sounds that Damond reported.

When Harrity stopped the car at the end of the alley to let a person on bicycle pass by them, both men testified about hearing a loud thump or bang on the squad car. They saw a figure approach the driver’s side, which prompted Harrity to yell, “Oh, Jesus!”

“He turned to me with fear in his eyes,” Noor told the court, referring to Harrity’s reaction.

Noor testified that he knew his partner feared for his life because there was a threat.

“And my intent was to stop the threat,” Noor said.

Noor said he saw a woman with blond hair who was wearing a pink T-shirt raise her arm outside Harrity’s car window.

He testified that although he did not see anything in the woman’s hand, he believed that she could have a weapon in her hand and that “[his] partner would have been dead.”

Damond had her gold iPhone in her hand.

Courtroom sketch of Noor testifying.
Cedric Hohnstadt / AP

Courtroom sketch of Noor testifying.

Noor told the court that he rose from his seat on the passenger side, put his arm across Harrity’s chest to protect him from the shot he was about to fire, extended his gun past the steering wheel, and then fired a single shot at the woman outside the driver's side window.

When the officers got out of the car and realized Damond was unarmed, they began performing CPR on her, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

The officers’ body cameras were turned on only after Damond was shot, and the footage captured her final moments where she said to them, “I’m dying.”

Noor’s defense team argued that based on the officers’ testimony, they feared a possible ambush. They said that Noor’s police training informed his actions to protect himself and his partner.

For police officers, "if you're reacting, it may already be too late," Noor's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said in his closing arguments on Monday, according to tweets from a reporter present at the hearing.

Prosecutors argued that Noor was reckless in his actions and questioned him about why he found Damond’s “blonde hair, pink T-shirt, and all” threatening.

They also cast doubt on both officers’ testimony about hearing a thump on the car, as neither of them had initially reported hearing the sound immediately after the shooting.

Based on forensic evidence, prosecutors argued that Damond’s fingerprints were not found on the squad car, suggesting that she never thumped the car. Prosecutors also highlighted inconsistencies between Noor's and Harrity's testimonies of what happened that night.

Don Damond (center) and his son Zach Damond.
Adam Bettcher / Reuters

Don Damond (center) and his son Zach Damond.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Damond's father, John Ruszczyk, said the family was satisfied with the outcome, and called on police officials to work to make sure something similar wouldn't happen again.

"We hope this will be a catalyst for further change," he said.

The case has drawn national and international attention because of the victim’s nationality, Noor’s Somali American background, and the unusual circumstances leading up to the shooting.

It is also rare for a police officer in the US to face murder charges for an on-duty shooting, and even rarer for one to be convicted.

Since 2005, 97 law enforcement officers have been arrested for murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting, of which only 35 were convicted, according to the Police Integrity Research Group’s data.

During his testimony, Noor told the court that when he realized that he had shot an innocent woman, “I felt my whole world come crashing down.”

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said.

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