By Rochelle Olson
MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor filed a petition Thursday asking the state Supreme Court to overturn his third-degree murder conviction in the death of an Australian woman, a case with implications for the imminent prosecution of a former officer in the death of George Floyd.
The state Supreme Court now must decide whether to consider Noor’s appeal in the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. If the court declines, a recent Court of Appeals ruling will stand.
In that appellate decision, the court voted 2-1 to uphold Noor’s third-degree murder conviction, saying he met the legal threshold for a “depraved mind” and that the charge can apply when a defendant’s actions are directed at a single person. Some attorneys have interpreted the statute to apply only when a defendant’s actions put multiple people at risk — not a specific individual — and results in a death.
Prosecutors in the case against former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, the man seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck in the video from May 25, are seeking to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against him based on the Court of Appeals’ ruling in Noor. Jury selection is scheduled to start in Chauvin’s trial on March 8 in Hennepin County District Court.
On Monday, the state Court of Appeals will hear arguments from prosecutors about whether to reinstate the third-degree charge against Chauvin. Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the charge last October, writing that Chauvin’s actions were directed at Floyd alone. He rejected prosecutors’ request to refile the charge earlier this month, leading to their request of the Court of Appeals to intervene.
In 2019, Noor became the first on-duty Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder when the charge was applied to him for “perpetuating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.” The charge is generally reserved for defendants in overdose deaths.
Noor was also convicted of second-degree manslaughter, which comes with a presumptive sentence of about four years, significantly less than the 12 1/2-year sentence he is currently serving.
Noor’s attorney Thomas Plunkett has argued that the depraved mind element wasn’t fulfilled because Noor was carrying out his duties as an officer, acted in a split second and directed his actions at a specific person.
The Court of Appeals ruling by Judges Louise Dovre Bjorkman and Michelle Larkin said the “reckless nature” of a defendant’s act can establish a depraved mind. “Thus, the evidence could be sufficient to sustain the jury’s finding of guilt even if Noor’s act was the result of a split-second decision,” the ruling said.
Judge Matthew Johnson, however, disagreed, saying he would have reversed Noor’s murder conviction and sent his case for sentencing on the lesser second-degree manslaughter charge. Johnson said Noor’s actions didn’t meet the legal definition for acting without regard for human life.
He noted that Noor testified he fired the fatal shot at a silhouette through the squad window to protect his partner’s life and that after firing, he went to Ruszczyk’s side and assisted in first aid.
(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)