April 09, 2019 10:25 PM
Don Damond, the fiancé of the unarmed woman fatally shot by former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in 2017, was the first witness called in Noor's trial Tuesday afternoon.
Don Damond was the last person to hear his bride-to-be alive on the phone, before she went outside. In a text message, Justine Ruszczyk Damond said "Ok police are here." He replied, "Ok keep me posted."
Damond is in the gaming industry and away on a business trip in Las Vegas. From the stand he felt relieved that she called the right people and all will be well. Prosecutor Patrick Lofton said just one minute and 19 seconds later, Justine clutched her stomach and muttered, "I'm dying." A familiar photo of the 40-year-old was displayed on a large screen next to Damond as he testified in the packed courtroom where the public can watch as well.
"That was a very moving testimony, both about Justine and that night," said court watcher Dave Bicking.
For three hours, Damond described his future wife, their romance and wedding plans, the repeated phone calls and texts on July 15, 2017. Also, how he found out she was killed. What Damond said was excruciating and it was important evidence, according to former Federal prosecutor Steve Schleicher, who's in private practice with Whitfield, Bryson and Mason, LLP.
"The victim can become a video or series of photos. This sort of spark of life testimony allows jurors to understand this was once a living, breathing person," Schleicher said.
Damond said he repeatedly tried to reach Justine, but she didn't pick up. He left voicemails and additional text messages.
"Let me know what's happening."
He was bothered that there was no response.
At 2:26 a.m., he sent another text, saying "Hello?"
More time passed and Damond stated a call came from an unknown number. It was from a Minneapolis police officer who reported that Justine was shot and deceased, but didn't say by whom.
Damond packed his luggage and headed to the airport to catch a flight back home. As he waited, his phone rang again and this time it was a BCA investigator, who explained Justine was killed -- by a police officer.
“I was in shock," Damond testified. "I was shaking. I said, 'Please treat her body with dignity.'”
#NoorTrial Emotional testimony as Justine’s fiancé Don is first witness.
Described the last conversation he had with Justine plus his reaction when he found out a police officer shot and killed her “I was in shock I was shaking. I said please treat her body with dignity” @KSTP
— Brett Hoffland (@BrettHoffland) April 9, 2019
Damond also said calling Justine's family in Australia to tell them of her death was the "worst most traumatic phone call" he's ever had to make. Members of her family cried in the courtroom as he testified.
Damond's testimony came after a defense attorney for Noor said his client drew his gun to protect his partner and himself.
During opening statements Tuesday, Noor's attorney, Peter Wold, told jurors the fatal shooting was a "perfect storm with tragic consequences."
#NoorTrial- Defense said this is a "classic ambush scenario" and pointed to an officer's fear of an ambush attack happening. Said Noor used his "ambush training" and that this was a "perfect storm with tragic consequences" @KSTP— Brett Hoffland (@BrettHoffland) April 9, 2019
Wold said that as Noor and his partner were responding to Damond's report of possible rape behind her home, they saw a bicyclist and heard a "bang." He said that in Noor's mind it was a classic setup for what could have been an ambush.
More from KSTP:
Prosecutor Lofton told jurors Noor fired his gun across his partner through the driver's side open window without saying a word. Lofton said there's no forensic evidence that Damond touched the police vehicle before being shot.
Judge Quaintance also ruled that all evidence will be public. Initially she was concerned about the graphic nature of the body camera footage.
"Court must follow the law, even if I disagree," Judge Kathryn Quaintance said.
At the end of court on Tuesday, the defense asked the judge to mute the audio from the body camera footage of Justine Damond's last moments. The prosecution opposed this saying both sides have had this evidence for a year, and they might introduce it in court on Wednesday.
Noor, who is Somali American, is charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia.
Prosecutors charged Noor with second-degree intentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, saying there was no evidence he faced a threat that justified deadly force.
Beth McDonough & Brett Hoffland
Updated: April 09, 2019 10:25 PM
Created: April 09, 2019 01:28 PM
Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company