by Amy Forlitti
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the third-degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an Australian woman in 2017, saying the charges were part of the case. Not suited to the circumstances.
Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of US-Australian dual citizen Justin Ruszczyk Dammond, who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind his home . 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, one of the attorneys who worked on Noor’s appeal, said she was grateful that the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified what constitutes third-degree murder, and she hopes it will lead to greater equality 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.
Messages sent Wednesday to the office of the Hennepin County Attorney, which prosecuted the case, were not immediately returned.
The ruling could give grounds to former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin to contest his own third-degree murder conviction in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. But it wouldn’t have much effect on Chauvin as he was also convicted of a more serious count of second-degree murder and is serving 22 1/2 years. 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 trio is due to stand trial in March on charges of both second-degree murder and abetting and abetting the murder.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the court said that in order to be charged with third-degree murder, also known as “corrupt-minded homicide,” the person’s mental state must show “generalized indifference to human life,” which cannot exist when the conduct of the defendant is directed specifically at the person killed. “
The judges said that the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn in Noor’s case is that her conduct was directed specifically at Damond, “and therefore the evidence is insufficient to maintain her conviction … of corrupt-minded murder.” for.”
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.
Fischer argued on appeal that the language required that the defendant’s actions be directed at more than one person, and that the law holds for cases such as indiscriminate killings.
But prosecutors urged the Minnesota Supreme Court to uphold the third-degree murder sentence, saying that nearly all murders by officers are directed at a specific person.
“If you believe that a person cannot be convicted of third-degree murder … – can be prosecuted under the homicide statute,” Hennepin County Prosecutor Jean Burdorf said during an oral argument in June.
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.
“Mohammed Noor did not act with a corrupt mind. Mohamed Noor was not indifferent to human life,” Fisher said during his arguments before the Supreme Court. “With the benefit of past sight we now know that Mr. Noor made a tragic split-second mistake. But if there is to be a meaningful distinction between murder and manslaughter, that mistake is to blame for Mr. Noor’s third-degree murder. Not enough to go on.”
She said on Wednesday that she hasn’t spoken to Noor yet, but knows that opinion will matter a lot.
“He truly believed he was saving his partner’s life that night, and instead tragically caused the loss of an innocent life,” she said. “Of course it’s incredibly challenging, but I think just confirming that this kind of mistake is not murder would mean more than words.”