Ex-cop sentenced to 12.5 years for killing of Australian woman

Joy Powell
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, ahead of his sentencing for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond (AFP Photo/Leila NAVIDI)

A former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced Friday to 12 years and six months in prison for the fatal shooting of an unarmed Australian woman who had been trying to report a crime.

Mohamed Noor, 33, was convicted in April of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder in the 2017 death of Justine Damond, in a case that shocked the Midwestern city and sparked outrage in the victim's home country.

Noor was responding to her late-night report of a possible sexual assault in an alley in Minneapolis.

At sentencing Noor told the judge of his fear of an ambush and then his horror over learning he had shot an innocent woman.

"That mistake is my hardship to bear," Noor told the judge, his voice breaking.

"The act may have been based on a miscalculation, but it was an intentional act," Hennepin County District Court Judge Kathryn Quaintance said in handing down her sentence.

During the trial Noor testified that he shot Damond, an Australian who had moved to the US, to protect his partner, because he had feared an ambush when responding to an emergency call she had made.

But prosecutors insisted the shooting was unreasonable and contrary to police department training policy.

Noor targeted Damond from the passenger seat of the police cruiser he was in with his partner, Matthew Harrity.

The 40-year-old victim had approached the cruiser after calling 911 twice to report a possible rape in the dark alley behind her home. No such assault was found to have occurred.

The shooting came at a time of heightened tensions over officer-involved shootings in the US.

Shot in the abdomen, Damond died at the scene. Her last words were: "I'm dying," according to earlier testimony from Justine’s fiance, Don Damond of Minneapolis. He was out of town on business and with her on the phone when she was slain.

Justine Damond had moved to the Midwestern city to marry him and had planned to legally change her name from her maiden name, Ruszczyk.

Friday, Damond read a victim impact statement as if he were speaking to the woman he'd known as his soulmate.

"My beloved, my dear friend, my future-wife-to-be," he began, pausing to compose himself between tears and jagged breaths. "How do I sum up the pain, the trauma, of these last 23 months in this proceeding?"

- "As your breath slipped away' -

That day, on July 15, 2017, Damond said, was the last time he felt a sense of happiness, of trust that everything would be OK.

"I miss you so much every day, every moment," he said, voice wavering.

He had been on the phone with her when she made her call, upon his advice, and left to walk toward the police cruiser, barefoot in her pajamas. She told him she was going to talk to the police, and then he heard her say, "I’m dying," as she fell to the ground.

"I wish I could have held you as your breath slipped away," he said softly.

Damond's parents had called for the maximum punishment for Noor, describing their daughter as an intelligent, kind, and vivacious woman who died trying to help someone else.

Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of 120-180 months, with the presumptive sentence of 150 months.

The judge noted that third-degree murder calls for a 150-month sentence, but given it is a lesser offense, she did not impose a sentence for that crime.

In addition to his imprisonment, Noor is now banned from using or possessing guns or explosives. He must pay a $6,000 fine and restitution yet to be determined, and provide a DNA sample.