April 10, 2019 10:19 PM
Jurors on Wednesday heard the 911 calls a woman made to report someone crying out for help in South Minneapolis, before she was fatally shot by a former Minneapolis police officer now on trial for murder.
The recordings of Justine Ruszczyk Damond's voice drew an emotional response from her family members in the Hennepin County courtroom where Mohamed Noor is standing trial.
He's pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense in the murder and manslaughter case.
That was followed by testimony from a medical examiner Wednesday afternoon.
Noor shot Damond in an alley behind her home in July 2017 when the unarmed woman, barefoot and wearing pajamas, approached the police SUV where he and his partner were seated. Noor's attorneys say he was protecting his partner and himself from what he perceived to be a possible ambush.
Defense attorney Tom Plunkett said Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, wouldn't have known they were responding to a possible sexual assault because they didn't hear her 911 calls, and were told by dispatchers only that there was a report of a woman screaming behind a building.
Noor, 33, fired a single shot at Damond, a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Australia whose death rocked both countries and led to changes in the Minneapolis Police Department.
Dr. Lorren Jackson, the Assistant Medical Examiner for Hennepin County, testified Damond was shot in the left side of her stomach and the bullet lodged near her spine.
Jackson said a major artery was hit and her time of death was 11:51 p.m.
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Attorneys for Noor, who was fired after being charged in the case and has never talked to investigators about what happened, argued that he used reasonable force to defend himself and his partner from a perceived threat. But prosecutors say there is no evidence he faced a threat that justified deadly force.
Prosecutors plan to introduce body camera video, which don't show the shooting itself, but show the aftermath. However, Noor's defense team asked the judge to exclude the footage, arguing it would be prejudicial to his client. It recorded the officer's attempts to save Damond's life.
"Officer Noor also understands that Video of Officer Harrity immediately relating the events may be relevant and admissible pursuant to Rule 801(d)(1)(D)," read a portion of the motion. "But, Video of the extensive efforts of Officers Harrity and Noor to resuscitate J.R., and the first responders continued lifesaving efforts, is not relevant to whether Officer Noor committed the offenses charged and serve no evidentiary purpose in establishing any element of the offenses. However, video of the lifesaving efforts is prejudicial and risk inflaming the passion of the jury."
Judge Kathryn Quaintance agreed to hold off on the footage until she has time to review case law.
In opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Peter Wold said Noor was reacting to a loud noise and feared an ambush, calling the shooting "a perfect storm with tragic consequences." The shooting came just two weeks after an officer in New York was ambushed and killed in a parked vehicle.
Noor and his partner were rolling down a dark alley in response to the 911 call from Damond when a bicyclist appeared in front of them and they heard "a noise," Wold said.
"It is the next split second that this case is all about," Wold said.
Prosecutor Patrick Lofton, in his opening remarks, questioned a statement from Harrity that he heard a thump right before the shooting.
Lofton said Harrity never said anything at the scene about such a noise, instead mentioning it for the first time some days later in an interview with investigators.
Investigators found no forensic evidence to show that Damond had touched the squad car before she was shot, raising the possibility that she had not slapped or hit it upon approaching the officers, Lofton said.
Defense attorney's dispute that.
Damond, 40, was a life coach who was engaged to be married one month after the shooting. Noor is a Somali American whose arrival on the force just a couple of years earlier had been trumpeted by city leaders working to diversify the police force.
Noor's attorneys have not said whether he will testify. The shooting raised questions about Noor's training.
If convicted, Noor could face 25 years in prison. There has never been an officer in Minnesota convicted for the shooting death of someone while on duty.
Beth McDonough & Brett Hoffland
Updated: April 10, 2019 10:19 PM
Created: April 10, 2019 06:05 AM
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