MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – The former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman after she called 911 to report a possible rape near her home was sentenced Friday to 12 1/2 years in prison.
Mohamed Noor, 33, was convicted in April of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual Australian-American citizen had been living in the U.S. for more than two years.
Damond was killed when she approached Noor’s squad car after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home 13 minutes before her death.
On Friday, Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced Noor to 150 months in prison. He will be credited for the 41 days he also already served since his conviction.
During the sentencing hearing, Quaintance said Noor has shown remorse for Damond’s death but not necessarily for “the actions themselves.”
She said Noor has not taken responsibility and quoted his own testimony, in which he said “deep down I thought I was justified.”
“The act may have been based on a miscalculation, but it was an intentional act,” the judge said. “Good people sometimes do bad things.”
Before the punishment was handed down, Noor delivered his own statement, his voice cracking in a show of grief. He said he has thought about the shooting for the last two years and more about Damond in the past month.
He offered Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, his condolences and said the court process has been so “cruel” and “dehumanizing.” He said he was grieving “for taking a person who is so perfect.”
Noor also talked about the contrast of trying everyday to have compassion while working as an officer and then taking a life, which goes against that compassion. He said watching her “slip away” has caused him “numbness” and made him “incredibly lonely.”
“I have lived with this and I will continue to live with this,” Noor said. “I caused this tragedy and it is my burden.”
The sentencing comes two days after Noor’s attorneys asked the judge for an unusual sentence, requesting that Noor be placed on probation and report to prison just two weeks a year. Under the proposal, Noor would have turned himself into the county workhouse for a week on the anniversary of Damond’s death and another week on her birthday for as long as he was on probation.
Forty-four letters were also filed with the court by friends, family, police officers and State Representative Hodan Hassan asking Judge Quaintance to consider Noor’s contributions to the community, his remorse and lack of criminal record when deciding on a sentence.
Defense attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold argued at the beginning of the hearing that a person convicted of third-degree murder must have demonstrated a “deprived mind.”
Wold said it was undisputed that Noor “acted in fear” and that when he shot Damond he acted with “specific design,” not a deprived mind. He concluded his argument by stating that a “deprived mind” has typically involved “crazy people…drunken people…cruel people—never a mind acting out of fear. Ever.”
The hearing, which lasted more than two hours, was mostly consumed by victim impact statements. Don Damond delivered his statement in the form of a letter written to Justine. It was a heart-wrenching letter that described the struggles he has faced since her death, including having to sell the home where they shared so many memories.
Don said that every Saturday at 11:39 p.m. – the time she was killed – he would go to the end of their alley and light a candle. He mentioned the emotional experience he had going to the tailors and seeing the dress she had planned to wear on their wedding day, which was scheduled a couple weeks after her death.
“We both lived with our hearts open, caring for others,” he said.
Impact statements were also given by Damond’s family members but read on their behalf by county workers. Her brother and sister-in-law said they now suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder because of her death. Her father, John Ruszczyk, said his daughter’s death has left him “incomplete” and his wife, Maryan Heffernan expressed her frustration with the lack of “cultural change” in America.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, 104 police officers have been charged in on-duty killings nationwide since 2005. Only 36 of those were actually convicted of a crime, and the sentences for those cases varied from no incarceration to 40 years in prison. Only three other police officers in the U.S. have been convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting death.