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Ex-Police Officer Guilty Of 3rd-Degree Murder

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. A former Minneapolis police officer is in jail, awaiting sentencing after a jury convicted him for murdering an unarmed 911 caller. Ten men and two women returned the verdict against 33-year-old Mohamed Noor after a month-long trial and 11 hours of deliberation. From Minnesota Public Radio, Jon Collins reports.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Forty-year-old Justine Ruszczyk called 911 on July 15, 2017, to report a possible sexual assault in the alley near her home. Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was one of two officers who responded late that night. Sitting in the passenger seat of their squad car, Noor said he reached across his partner's chest and fired a single shot through the open driver's side window, striking Ruszczyk in the abdomen. She died minutes later.

Jurors convicted Noor yesterday of manslaughter and third-degree murder, but acquitted him of a more serious intentional murder charge. The victim's father, John Ruszczyk, told reporters that the verdict upholds three key pillars of a civil society.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN RUSZCZYK: The rule of law, the respect for the sanctity of life and the obligation of the police force to serve and protect.

COLLINS: Defense attorneys - who have not commented on the verdict - argued throughout the trial that Ruszczyk startled the officers when she approached their squad car and that Noor fired to protect the life of his partner. Prosecutors countered that was no justification for using deadly force. After jurors returned the verdict, Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman said they came to the right conclusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE FREEMAN: It does not give us pleasure to call out police wrongdoing. But when it occurs, it is our job to let the public know - in extreme cases - to bring charges and prosecution.

COLLINS: Issues of race and ethnicity arose at times during the trial. Noor immigrated from Somalia as a child and is black. Ruszczyk moved to the United States from Australia and was white. Ruszczyk's death came only weeks after a jury in St. Paul acquitted another Minnesota police officer in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor. Castile's friend, John Thompson, has supported Ruszczyk's family throughout their ordeal. But he remains concerned that the first Minnesota officer convicted in a line-of-duty death is black.

JOHN THOMPSON: To me - and this is just my personal opinion - it feels like Mohamed Noor is like the sacrificial lamb. We'll give him away because he's a black man. That's how I feel.

COLLINS: Mindy Berry was one of Ruszczyk's neighbors. She says she's pleased with the verdict, but other families of police shooting victims deserve their day in court too.

MINDY BERRY: I'm so pleased that there's finally been one officer held accountable for their behaviors - for their actions. And it's not enough. We need every officer held accountable.

COLLINS: After jurors returned the verdict, Noor was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. Judge Kathryn Quaintance denied a defense request to allow him to remain free until his June 7 sentencing, where he's likely to receive prison time. For NPR News, I'm Jon Collins in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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