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Judge resentences ex-officer Mohamed Noor to additional 4+ years in murder of woman who reported crime

Former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor. (Leila Navidi/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor received a new sentence of 4 3/4 years, the maximum allowed, on Thursday for his manslaughter conviction after the state’s high court overturned the more serious murder conviction for the 2017 shooting of an Australian woman who had called to report a possible crime.

Noor, who turned 36 Wednesday, was resentenced by Judge Kathryn Quaintance on second-degree manslaughter because the Minnesota Supreme Court set aside his third-degree murder conviction last month. The decision vacated a prison term of 12 1/2 years Noor was already serving on the murder count for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

Quaintance said she wasn’t surprised Noor has been a model prisoner, but he had fired his gun across the nose of his partner, endangering a bicyclist and others in the neighborhood on a summer evening.

“These factors of endangering the public make your crime of manslaughter appropriate for a high end sentence,” she said.

Noor has served 29 1/12 months since he entered prison in May 2019. With credit for time served, Noor would be scheduled for release after serving 2/3 of his sentence, meaning he must serve another 8 1/2 months. He is likely to be released next May.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy read a statement from Maryan Heffernan, the victim’s mother, who was watching from Australia. The family sought the maximum for Noor. “We should expect complete accountability from our public institutions and their staff,” Heffernan’s statement said.

The longest sentence would send a message to police “that we require respect for their badges,” she said. “We will be outraged if the court is unwilling to respect the will of the people and demand that justice be heard, be seen and be done.”

The victim’s husband Don Damond appeared online and took a different tact, saying the Supreme Court’s decision, “Does not diminish the truth. The truth is that Justine should be alive.”

Damond said his comments should not be construed that he wasn’t still grieving, but his departed wife “lived a life of love. She modeled a life of joy for all and she stood for forgiveness.”

“Given her example, I want you to know that I forgive you,” Damond said. “All I ask is that you use this experience to do good for other people. Be an example of how to transform beyond adversity. Be an example of honesty and contrition. This is what Justine would want.”

Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines recommend a term between about 3 1/3 and 4 3/4 years in prison for defendants with no criminal history, such as Noor. The presumptive term is four years, according to the guidelines.

In her comments, Sweasy asked for the maximum, noting this will be the only time a police officer will be sentenced for this offense. “By every measure … this is worse-than-typical for a second-degree manslaughter case,” Sweasy said, adding that Noor wore the badge of Minneapolis police officer, a social contract that provides privilege to use deadly force to protect other civilians.

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said Noor was young and had overreacted. “He was operating with the mistaken belief that he needed to protect his partner,” Plunkett said, adding that Noor had wanted to make the world better and chose a career as a police officer to bridge the gap between the police, the justice system and the Somali-immigrant community.

In prison, he was an award-winning inmate for his commitment and respect to others. Plunkett requested a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, 3 1/3 years. There is little doubt that Mr. Noor’s time in prison was “more punitive” than anyone could have imagined before the pandemic, Plunkett said.

In Noor’s brief comments, he said he was “deeply grateful” for Damond’s forgiveness and “deeply sorry” for the family’s loss. Of Damond, Noor said, “I will take his advice and be a unifier.”

Plunkett had asked the judge to give Noor credit for time he’s already served in prison and to place him on supervised release, which typically requires regular check-ins with the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), regular drug and alcohol testing, and restrictions on certain activities. It can also include electronic home monitoring. Violations of such terms can result in a defendant being sent back to prison.

Defendants in Minnesota must serve 2/3 of their prison term before becoming eligible for supervised release.

Noor entered prison on May 2, 2019 and was first sentenced in June 2019. He originally served his time in administrative segregation at Oak Park Heights prison in Minnesota, but was transferred on July 11, 2019 to facility in North Dakota for his own safety.

Jurors convicted Noor in April 2019 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after she called about a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home.

Noor’s attorneys appealed the murder count, which was upheld in February by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. They then asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review that decision.

The high court agreed with Noor’s attorneys that because of how the statute is written, the murder count cannot apply when a defendant’s actions are directed at a specific person. The state Supreme Court vacated Noor’s conviction and sentence, and sent his case back to court for resentencing.

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