Police Shooting of Australian Woman Goes to Jury

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Jurors heard closing arguments Monday in the murder trial of a former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman, with one defense attorney calling the incident a tragedy but not a crime.

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County Government Center after the first day of trial on April 1, 2019. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy described the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond as a “tragedy compounded on tragedy” at the start of the prosecution’s closing argument Monday morning.

Damond was killed on July 15, 2017, when she approached former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor’s squad car after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home 13 minutes before her death.

At the time of her death, Damond was engaged to be married and worked as a life coach. The 40-year-old dual Australian-American citizen had been living in the U.S. for more than two years.

Noor, a 33-year-old Somali-American, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and second and third-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.

In this Aug. 11, 2017, file photo, Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Damond in Minneapolis. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP, File)

Sweasy explained that throughout the four-week trial, jurors heard multiple testimonies from officers who arrived on the scene that warm summer night after it had been reported that an officer-involved shooting occurred in the 5th Precinct, one of the lowest crime areas of Minneapolis.

“Baffled” is one word an officer used to describe his thoughts as he arrived on scene, Sweasy recounted.  

“No one can understand why this happened—eventually we found out what happened, but not why,” the prosecutor said.

Speaking in a packed courtroom, Sweasy urged jurors to look at things that happened after a body camera worn by Sergeant Shannon Barnette, a supervisor who arrived on the scene after the shooting, was turned off.

Sweasy explained that the “slap,” “bang” and “pow” noises used to describe the sound Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity heard on their squad car right before Noor fired his gun was only a theory that developed as officers were arriving to the scene and were trying to figure out how the shooting happened.

The prosecutor also pointed out that 51 fingerprints were taken from the squad car and none matched Damond’s.

Sweasy also replayed a body-camera video in which Barnette tells a lieutenant that Noor “was in the car,” as Sweasy tried to prove that Barnette did have a private conversation with Noor at the scene despite what they said in their testimonies.

Defense attorney Tom Plunkett told jurors there was a lot of testimony over the last few weeks but that they haven’t necessarily seen a lot of evidence. He took jurors back to the precise moments of when the shot was fired and reiterated that no testimony had challenged Noor’s training as a Minneapolis police officer.

In a theatrical tactic, Plunkett acted out these precise moments to jurors of what Harrity described happened in a “millisecond.” 

He described the “thump” on the squad car, a bicyclist passing the squad car, Damond raising her right arm, and Harrity showing “extraordinary fear and terror” and shouting “Oh Jesus!” immediately before Noor fired his gun.

Plunkett said Noor shot because he knew he had a quarter of a second to react.

Plunkett’s closing argument lasted more than an hour and a half and the better part of it was spent rebutting the prosecutor’s arguments, describing them as “red herrings” or “sideshows.”

He ended by telling jurors, “Regardless of your decision, Mr. Noor will have to live with the fact that he took an innocent life…It’s a tragedy but it’s not a crime.”

The jury began deliberating Monday afternoon. Jurors will be sequestered, or isolated from the public and news coverage, until a verdict is reached.

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