Mohamed Noor attorney lays out argument for new trial in Justine Ruszczyk killing

But Hennepin County prosecutor tells appellate court that Noor’s actions were ‘rash’ and ‘heedless,’ and took 911 caller’s life

Police Shooting-Minneapolis
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor listened to victim impact statements during his sentencing hearing with his lawyers Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett at the Hennepin County District Court on June 7, 2019, in Minneapolis, before being sentenced by Judge Kathryn Quaintance in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP, Pool 2019

An attorney for former police officer Mohamed Noor argued before the Minnesota Court of Appeals Wednesday that Noor’s convictions should be reversed or that he should be given a new trial. 

Noor is serving prison time after he was convicted last year of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting death of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk in Minneapolis in July 2017. 

Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett told the three-judge appeals panel that the charges against Noor were not appropriate. 

Plunkett said the third-degree murder charge doesn’t apply because Noor was focused on a particular person, and the statute requires that the charge be applied when someone causes a death “without intent to effect the death of any person.” 

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Minnesota statutes justify a police officer’s use of deadly force if it’s required to protect a “peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.” Judge Matthew Johnson asked Plunkett how that law applied in Noor’s case. 

Plunkett responded that Noor’s former partner Matthew Harrity had “never been this scared in his entire life” when Ruszczyk approached the squad in the alley behind her southwest Minneapolis home. He argued that Hennepin County District Court Judge Kathryn Quaintance should have allowed more testimony about the officers’ fear of being ambushed: “If this is an ambush, both officers are dead.” 

Prosecutors push back

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Jean Burdorf argued before the panel that Plunkett isn’t accurately describing the charges against Noor, which she said require only providing that Noor committed a dangerous act with disregard for human life. 

“Noor’s actions were rash, they were heedless and they were extremely dangerous and they killed Justine Ruszczyk,” Burdorf said. 

The three-judge panel will consider the arguments and issue a decision within 90 days. 

On July 15, 2017, Ruszczyk called 911 after she heard what she thought was a woman being sexually assaulted in the alley behind her southwest Minneapolis home. Noor and Harrity responded to the 911 call and drove through the alley without stopping. 

Noor testified that he shot Ruszczyk through an open window after she approached the squad from behind and the officers heard a loud “thump.” She died at the scene. 

Noor was the first officer in Minnesota convicted for killing a civilian while on duty. He was sentenced in 2019 to 12 1/2 years in prison. Noor was originally in custody at Oak Park Heights, Minn., prison but has been transferred to an undisclosed location.