Opening statements, testimony to begin in Noor murder trial

 

April 09, 2019

 

Attorneys will tell a jury how they believe Noor, a Minneapolis police officer at the time, came to fatally shoot an unarmed woman in an alley.


Mohamed Noor, accompanied by his legal team, Peter Wold, and Tom Plunkett left following a probable cause hearing for the ex-Minneapolis cop Thursday at the Hennepin County Government Center. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE •

 

By CHAO XIONG and LIBOR JANY, Star Tribune

 

Attorneys in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor are expected to give their opening statements Tuesday morning, outlining how they believe he came to fatally shoot an unarmed woman in a dark alley two years ago.

The defense has indicated that Noor acted in self-defense, while prosecutors have argued in court filings that other reasonable officers would have acted differently that night.

Noor, 33, is on trial in Hennepin County District Court for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

A jury of 12 men and four women, including alternates, was seated Monday in the trial. Six of them appear to be people of color, including four immigrants.

Noor shot Damond, 40, about 11:40 p.m. on July 15, 2017, after responding to her 911 call about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home. Noor’s partner, Matthew Harrity, has told investigators that the officers heard a loud sound near their squad, Damond appeared at Harrity’s open driver’s side window and then Noor fired his weapon.

While the prosecution has not divulged who will testify Tuesday, prosecutors typically introduce a murder victim to the jury by calling the closest living relative to the witness stand early in a trial. The witness is usually asked about the person, and also helps introduce a “spark of life” photo of the victim.


Justine ­Ruszczyk Damond was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, at the time a Minneapolis police officer, on July 15, 2017

 

Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, is expected to testify at trial. In an earlier court hearing, the judge and both sides agreed that he can watch the proceedings after he testifies, an exception that was not made for other witnesses, who will be sequestered during trial.

Don Damond was out of town when Justine Ruszczyk Damond was shot.

“We lost the dearest of people and are desperate for information,” he said days after the shooting. “Piecing together Justine’s last moments before the homicide would provide small comfort as we grieve this tragedy.”

The two were engaged to be married that August.

Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s website said she “originally trained as a veterinarian” and “has also studied and practiced yoga and meditation for over 17 years, is a qualified yoga instructor, a personal health and life coach and meditation teacher, embracing and teaching the neuro-scientific benefits of meditation.”

She attended high school in Sydney, Australia.

Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance has previously issued these rulings about what can and cannot be admitted as evidence at trial:

• The judge denied the prosecution’s request to admit two 3-D reconstruction “fly-through” videos of the crime scene. No stills from the videos, created via computer software and laser scans of the scene, can be admitted, although prosecutors can use data from the scans to establish measurements between objects.

• The prosecution will be allowed to present evidence that before Damond’s call, someone else had called police to request a welfare check on a woman on the street who possibly had dementia. Noor and Harrity responded to the call but did not find the woman.

Prosecutors wrote in a previous court filing that Noor should have considered the previous call in relation to Damond’s call, and should have taken “seconds” to assess the person approaching his squad before shooting.

• No one else can testify about Noor’s motive or state of mind at the time of the shooting. But evidence about it could come into play if Noor testifies.

• Prosecutors cannot use Noor’s “prior acts” as a police officer against him, including a 2017 incident in which he pointed a gun at a motorist during a traffic stop and accusations that he occasionally refused to respond to police calls while he was in training.

• Noor’s refusal to speak with a state investigator about the shooting can only be used as evidence by prosecutors if he takes the witness stand. The defense had filed a motion to bar it from trial.

• Quaintance said that assistant Hennepin County attorneys Amy Sweasy and Patrick Lofton can use Noor’s 2015 pre-employment psychological exam only if he testifies at trial and the exam becomes relevant.

“The [exam] is controversial, and I find that it would not be more probative than prejudicial in this case,” she said.

• The judge said the Minneapolis Police Department’s body camera policy, which gave officers wide discretion at the time in terms of when to activate the technology, was not relevant evidence.

The defense had argued for prohibiting or severely limiting its admission. The prosecution argued that the policy helps give context, and that Noor’s supervisor turned off her body camera at least three times the night of the shooting, including while she was speaking to Noor about the incident.

Quaintance said officers can still “be pressed” by prosecutors about when and why they turned off their cameras.

• The judge said the prosecution can admit Noor’s body camera footage as evidence without having him introduce it if someone else can testify that the video reflects what was captured that night. (Evidence presented in court is typically introduced by the person who collected or created it.)

Noor and Harrity did not have their body cameras on at the time of the shooting, but turned them on immediately afterward.

• The judge granted the defense’s motion to exclude testimony from other officers about their experiences with people hitting or approaching squads. Prosecutors had pushed to admit it.

“The way to prove reasonableness is not to bring in a bunch of people in who say, ‘Well, I would’ve done it differently,’ ” the judge said, adding that only experts can testify about “industry standards.”

Noor has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder with intent, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. His trial is expected to last three to four weeks. It began April 1 with jury selection.

Defense attorneys have not said whether Noor will testify on his own behalf.

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