A former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman after she called 911 to report a possible rape behind her home has been sentenced to 57 months on a lesser charge after his murder conviction was overturned.
Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the July 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual US-Australian citizen and yoga teacher who was engaged to be married.
He was sentenced to 12 and a half years on the murder count but the Supreme Court last month tossed out Noor’s murder conviction and ordered him to be re-sentenced for manslaughter.
The sentence announced by Judge Kathryn Quaintance was the maximum allowed under the state’s sentencing guidelines, which call for a range of 41 to 57 months.
Noor had sought the shortest possible term.
“Mr Noor, I am not surprised that you have been a model prisoner,” Quaintance said.
“However, I do not know any authority that would make that grounds for reducing your sentence.”
She cited Noor “shooting across the nose of your partner” and endangering others the night of the shooting to hand down the stiffest sentence she could.
Noor, who was fired after he was charged, has already served more than 29 months.
In Minnesota, inmates who behave well typically serve two-thirds of their prison sentences and the remainder on supervised release.
Noor testified at his 2019 trial that he and his partner were driving slowly in an alley when a loud bang on their police SUV made him fear for their lives.
He said he saw a woman appear at the partner’s driver’s side window and raise her right arm before he fired a shot from the passenger seat to stop what he thought was a threat.
Damond’s parents, John Ruszczyk and Maryan Heffernan, also asked the judge to impose the longest sentence.
In a statement read by prosecutors, they called Damond’s death “utterly gratuitous” and said that the Minnesota Supreme Court’s overturning of a “poorly written law” didn’t change the jury’s belief that Noor committed murder.
“Our sorrow is forever, our lives will always endure an emptiness,” they said.
The victim’s fiance, Don Damond, gave his statement via Zoom.
He started by praising prosecutors for their “sound application of the law” and criticising the state Supreme Court for its reversal, which he said “does not diminish the truth that was uncovered during the trial”.
“The truth is Justine should be alive. No amount of justification, embellishment, cover-up, dishonesty or politics will ever change that truth,” he said.
But Don Damond also spoke directly to Noor, saying he forgave him and had no doubt Justine also would have forgiven him “for your inability in managing your emotions that night”.
Noor, wearing a suit and tie and donning a face mask, appeared impassive as the victim’s loved ones’ statements were read.
He later addressed the court briefly, saying, “I’m deeply grateful for Mr Damond’s forgiveness. I will take his advice and be a unifier. Thank you”.
Damond’s death angered people in the US and Australia, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis’ police chief.
It also led the department to change its policy on body cameras; Noor and his partner didn’t have theirs activated when they were investigating Damond’s 911 call.
Days after Noor’s conviction, Minneapolis agreed to pay $US20 million ($27 million) to Damond’s family, believed at the time to be the largest settlement stemming from police violence in Minnesota.
It was surpassed earlier this year when Minneapolis agreed to a $US27 million settlement in George Floyd’s death just as Derek Chauvin was going on trial.