Minnesota’s highest court on Wednesday vacated former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor’s third-degree murder conviction for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk while responding to her 911.
The court said there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction and ordered that he be sentenced on his conviction for second-degree manslaughter, a lesser charge.
This ruling supersedes a previous appeals court decision in February against Noor that opened the door to reinstating a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April on state murder charges in George Floyd’s death.
Mary Moriarty, the former Chief Hennepin County Public Defender, said she does not believe the decision will affect Chauvin’s case because his second-degree murder conviction has not been reversed. Chauvin was only sentenced on the most serious charge of second-degree murder, per state sentencing guidelines.
In a statement, Noor’s lawyers and his family praised the decision.
“They have had a long journey; now fairness has been delivered to a person who is a devoted to his community,” the statement said, quoting their client as saying “with hardship comes ease” and that he is looking forward to hugging his son as soon as possible.
“We have always maintained that this was a tragic case, and we are grateful for an exceptionally well-reasoned and unanimous opinion from this State’s highest court.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court decision said a person’s mental state must show a “generalized indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant’s conduct is directed with particularity at the person who is killed” for a third-degree — also known as “depraved-mind murder — conviction to stand.
The evidence in Noor’s case, the court ruled, was “insufficient to sustain his conviction … for depraved-mind murder.”
Noor was sentenced in June 2019 to 12½ years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The 33-year-old Somali American was convicted in April of that year on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2017 death of Ruszczyk, who had relocated from her native Australia to Minneapolis to live with her fiancé.
Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, in a statement, said his office was disappointed with the decision. He called Noor’s second-degree murder conviction “just” and said, “we will seek the maximum sentence possible.”
Bob Bennet, attorney for Ruszczyk’s family, said her relatives in Australia were not yet aware of the decision.
At Noor’s trial, his lawyer argued that a “perfect storm” of events led to him opening fire on Ruszczyk the night of July 15, 2017, when she called 911 to report a possible assault in progress in an alley behind her Minneapolis home.
Noor testified that he feared for his partner’s life as Ruszczyk approached their squad car in the dark, empty alley.
But Hennepin County prosecutors said Noor overreacted and failed to properly assess the situation before firing a gunshot into Ruszczyk’s abdomen.
Noor apologized to Ruszczyk’s family and said he will think of her every day.
Prosecutors said Noor was sitting in the passenger seat, pulled out his gun and shot across the vehicle to hit Ruszczyk, who was outside the driver’s side door.
Noor testified that his partner’s terrified expression and the sight of Ruszczyk with her hand raised jolted him into action.
Although he did not see a gun in the woman’s hand, he feared his partner might be shot as she began to raise her hand, he said.
Ruszczyk’s death drew widespread attention, in the United States and in her native Australia.