MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the third degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who shot dead an Australian woman in 2017, saying the charge did not fit the circumstances of the case.
The ruling means his murder conviction is overturned and the case will now return to district court, where he will be convicted of manslaughter. He has already served over 28 months of his murder sentence. If he is sentenced to four years for manslaughter, he may be eligible for supervised release later this year.
Caitlinrose Fisher, one of the attorneys who worked on Noor’s appeal, said she was grateful that the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified what constitutes third degree murder, and she hopes that will lead to a greater fairness and consistency in prosecution decisions.
“We said from the start that it was a tragedy but it was not a murder, and now the Supreme Court has agreed and recognizes it,” she said.
Messages left at the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office, which continued the case, on Wednesday were not immediately returned.
The ruling could give former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin grounds to challenge his own third degree murder conviction in the death of George Floyd in May 2020. But it wouldn’t have much of an impact on Chauvin since he was also convicted of the more serious count of second- degree murder and serving 22 1/2 years. Experts say Chauvin is unlikely to be successful in appealing his second degree murder conviction.
The decision in the Noor case has also been closely watched for its possible impact on three other former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial over Floyd’s death. Prosecutors had wanted to add charges of aiding and abetting third degree murder against them, but that is unlikely to happen now. The trio are due to stand trial in March for complicity in second degree murder and manslaughter.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the court said that for a third degree murder charge, also known as “depraved mind murder”, the person’s mental state must show “widespread indifference to life. human, which cannot exist when the conduct of the accused is directed with the particularity of the person who is killed.
The judges said the only reasonable inference that can be drawn in Noor’s case is that his conduct was directed specifically at Damond, “and therefore there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction … for depraved mind murder.”
State law has defined third degree murder as “an act eminently dangerous to others and testifying to a depraved spirit, without regard for human life”. A central dispute has been whether “dangerous to others” should be read in the plural, or whether the fatal act can be directed against a single specific person.
Fisher argued on appeal that the language requires that an accused’s actions be directed against more than one person, and that the law is intended for cases such as indiscriminate murders.
But prosecutors urged the Minnesota Supreme Court to uphold the third degree murder conviction, saying almost all murders committed by agents are directed against a particular person.
“If you maintain that a person cannot be convicted of third degree murder … if their actions are directed against a specific person, there will be no shooting involving an officer who can be prosecuted under the law. on the Minnesota depraved mind murder. Hennepin County District Attorney Jean Burdorf said during oral argument in June.
Noor said during his trial in 2019 that a loud bang on his patrol car made him fear for his life and that of his partner. So he reached his partner from the passenger seat and fired through the driver’s window. Fisher told Supreme Court justices that “it would be very difficult to imagine” that an “agent’s instant reaction to a perceived threat” would count as “depraved mind murder,” but other charges might be justified instead, such as manslaughter.
“Mohamed Noor did not act with a depraved mind. Mohamed Noor was not indifferent to human life,” Fisher said during his arguments before the Supreme Court. “Looking back, we now know that Mr. Noor made a tragic split-second error. But while there is to be a significant difference between murder and manslaughter, that error is not sufficient to justify Mr. Noor’s conviction for third degree murder .
She said on Wednesday that she had yet to speak to Noor, but knows the opinion will mean a lot.
“He truly believed he was saving his partner’s life that night, and instead he tragically caused the loss of an innocent life,” she said. “Sure, it’s incredibly difficult, but I think just reaffirming that a mistake like this isn’t murder will mean more than words can say.”