The fatal police shooting of Sydney life coach Justine Damond-Ruszczyk in a dark Minneapolis alley was “a perfect storm” and Australia’s lack of gun violence may have been a factor, a jury has been told.
Mohamed Noor, a 33-year-old former police officer, has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. If found guilty, faces more than 40 years in prison.
Prosecutor Patrick Lofton and Noor’s lawyer Peter Wold duelled on April 9 as they outlined their cases in opening statements in a downtown Minneapolis courtroom.
They agree Noor fired the single fatal bullet into 40-year-old Damond’s stomach as she suddenly appeared at his police vehicle in an alley behind her home on July 15, 2017.
The prosecutor told the jury he will call expert witnesses to explain how Noor’s use of force was unreasonable.
MURDER TRIAL: Former police officer Mohamed Noor arrived in court for opening statements in the murder trial involving the shooting of Justine Damond, with his defense attorney telling jurors the shooting was a "perfect storm with tragic consequences.” https://t.co/H1eZBqivHO pic.twitter.com/1fHeCoDImS
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) April 9, 2019
Wold painted a different picture, telling jurors the situation Noor found himself in that hot summer night had the feel of “a classic ambush scenario set-up” and he fired his gun at Damond to protect himself and his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity.
“It was a perfect storm with tragic circumstances,” Wold said.
The tragedy began just before midnight with Damond home alone and trying to go to sleep when she heard loud “sex noises” coming from an alley near her backyard.
She called her American fiance, Don Damond, a Minneapolis casino executive who was in Las Vegas on a work trip because she feared the woman was being raped.
An emotional Damond testified on Tuesday how he told Damond to call 911.
Today marks the beginning of Mohamed Noor’s trial over the shooting death of Sydney bride to be Justine Ruszczyk while Noor was responding to her 911 call in Minneapolis. Today’s proceedings will start with jury selection. Justine’s fiancé Don is a witness in the trial.@9NewsAUS pic.twitter.com/Oxcb0wAPbe
— Alexis Daish (@LexiDaish) April 1, 2019
When the police vehicle, with Officer Harrity driving and Noor in the passenger seat, answered the call and cruised quietly down the alley with lights off and windows down they did not hear or see anything of note.
Damond, barefoot, in her pajamas and unarmed, went down to the alley to talk to them.
Wold said Noor had been trained in “counter ambush training” and his fears were heightened by a rash of police gunned down in the US after fake 911 calls.
The court heard how Noor and Officer Harrity were in the stationary squad car ready to go to their next job when Damond suddenly appeared at Officer Harrity’s window.
He alleged Damond thumped the vehicle.
Officer Harrity said “Oh Jesus” and grabbed his gun, the lawyer said.
Noor, sitting in the front passenger seat, shot across Officer Harrity and fatally struck Damond in the stomach.
Wold suggested to the jury Damond’s Australian background made her less likely to be aware of the threats US police officers face.
“She came from Australia where gun violence was virtually non-existent,” Wold said.
Noor was fired from the police force last year when charged.
Lofton questioned whether Damond did thump the car because Officer Harrity initially did not mention it and no confirming forensic evidence was found.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.
What we learned from the day in court at the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor: Who theorized Justine Damond slapped the police SUV, how did the officers react? https://t.co/ZMpcOXT54b pic.twitter.com/WMYkcxpR54
— Star Tribune (@StarTribune) April 10, 2019
Damond’s father, John, brother Jason and stepmother Maryan Heffernan, are in Minneapolis for the trial.
By Peter Mitchell