by Amy Forlitti
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the third-degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed a woman who called 911 to report possible rape behind her home. Was.
In its judgment in the case of Mohamed Noor, the Supreme Court also clarified what would constitute third-degree murder, or corrupt-mindedness, saying that if the defendant’s actions are directed at a particular person So the law does not apply.
Noor was convicted in 2017 of third-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter, the death of Justin Ruszczyk Damond, a dual US-Australian citizen, who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind his home. had called. He was sentenced to 12 1/2 years for murder but was not sentenced for murder.
The ruling means that his murder sentence has been overturned and the case will now go back to the district court, where he will be sentenced for murder. He has already served more than 28 months before his murder sentence. If sentenced to an estimated four years for murder, he could be eligible for supervised release later this year.
Catlinrose Fischer, an attorney who worked on Noor’s appeal, said she was grateful that the Supreme Court clarified the law, and hoped it would lead to greater equity and consistency in decision-making.
“We have said from the beginning that it was a tragedy but it was not a murder, and now the Supreme Court agrees and accepts it,” she said.
Noor’s defense team also issued a joint statement, saying “fairness has been provided” and that Noor is looking forward to hugging her son as soon as possible.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement that he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s analysis, but should accept the decision. Freeman said the conviction on second-degree murder is upheld and justified.
Messages left with Dammond’s fiancé were not immediately returned, and an email sent to her family in Australia was returned with an automated response.
The ruling could ground former Minneapolis official Derek Chauvin for his own third-degree murder conviction in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. But it would not have much effect on Chauvin as he was also convicted of a more serious count of second-degree murder and is serving a sentence of 22 1/2 years on that count. Experts say it is unlikely that Chauvin will be successful in appealing his second-degree murder sentence.
The verdict in Noor’s case was also closely watched for its potential impact on three other former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial for Floyd’s death. Prosecutors wanted to add charges of aid and abetment to third-degree murder against him, but that is unlikely to happen now. The three men are due to stand trial in March on charges of both second-degree murder and abetting and abetting the murder.
The attorney general’s office, which is advocating that case, said it was studying the verdict.
The Supreme Court said that for a charge of third-degree murder, the person’s mental state “must show a generalized indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant’s conduct is directed specifically at the person killed.” Is.”
The judges said that Noor’s conduct was directed specifically at Damond, “and therefore the evidence is insufficient to maintain her conviction … for corrupt-minded murder.”
State law defines third-degree murder as “an act extremely dangerous to others and exposing a corrupt mind regardless of human life”. A central controversy has been whether “dangerous to others” should be read as plural, or if the deadly act may be directed at a single, specific individual.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court pointed to several other cases in which it has interpreted the phrase “corrupt mind without regard for human life”. In nearly 20 cases spanning more than 160 years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that corrupt-minded homicide shows an indifference to life in general, and not to the life of a specific, targeted individual.
“We confirm our example today and confirm that the mental state necessary for perverted-mind homicide cannot exist when the defendant’s actions are directed exclusively at the person killed,” Justice said. Wrote. The Supreme Court also spoke of setting aside one of its earlier rulings that contradicted this precedent – saying that the judges in that case had found it wrong.
While evidence suggests that Noor’s conduct was aimed at Damond, the state argued that the corrupt-mindedness was enforced by being possessed by Noor’s accomplice and a cyclist.
The Supreme Court observed that mere proximity to others did not establish that Noor had indifference to human life in general.
The judges also said they could agree that Noor’s decision to shoot his gun because he was shocked was unfair, adding that his “conduct was particularly disturbing because civilians Our peace officers should be able to take a place. But the tragic circumstances of the case do not change the fact that Noor’s conduct was directed specifically towards Ruszczyk.”
Prosecutors argued that since almost all murders by officers are directed at a specific person, no officer could be prosecuted for third-degree murder if the statute was interpreted as Noor’s lawyers suggested. was done. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying that any person, including an officer, who “in general” kills someone while showing indifference to human life, can be convicted of corrupt-mindedness. could. The judges also noted that the officers could be tried in other cases of murder if the facts of the case were confirmed.
Noor testified in his 2019 trial that a loud bang on his squad car scared him and his partner for life, so he approached his partner from the passenger seat and opened fire from the driver’s window. Fisher told Supreme Court justices that “it would be very hard to imagine” that an officer’s “second reaction to a perceived threat” would count as “corrupt-minded homicide”, but would instead count other charges. can be justified, such as murder.
Fischer said Wednesday that Noor “really believed that he was saving his partner’s life that night, and instead he tragically caused the loss of an innocent life … I guess just that thing.” Confirming that such a mistake is not murder would mean more than words say.”