A former Minnesota police officer has been convicted of the murder of an Australian woman who approached his patrol car to report a sexual assault situation.
Justine Ruszczyk Damond was walking towards the police car just behind her home in Minneapolis on July 15, 2017, when officer Mohamed Noor opened fire on her. The former policeman claimed in his court testimony that he shot her because he was afraid that he and his partner were being ambushed, per the BBC.
The 40-year-old, who was a yoga instructor from Sydney, was reportedly trying to report a possible rape happening near her house when she approached the patrol car. At the time, the shocking incident made headlines and drew criticism from all around the globe, with then-Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, dubbing the death “inexplicable.”
33-year-old Noor was handcuffed and taken into custody after a jury convicted him of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Tuesday. He was acquitted of a third charge of second-degree murder with intent to kill.
The jury heard that the victim, who was a dual U.S.-Australian citizen, was shot just over a minute after she spoke on the phone with her fiance, Don Damond. She told him during their conversation that the police had arrived after she called them to report an alleged sexual assault taking place in an alley near their home. According to the BBC, the attack was never found to have occurred.
When he took the stand last week, Noor described seeing a blonde female wearing a pink t-shirt approach his car that night with her right arm raised. However, he recalled believing there was an imminent danger after hearing a loud bang and seeing his partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, turn to him “with fear in his eyes.”
He claimed Harrity shouted, “Oh Jesus!” and tried to fetch his gun from his holster, something which allegedly prompted Noor to “make a split-second decision.” He ended up shooting Damond through the car window, adding that, when he realized he had shot an unarmed civilian, he felt like his “whole world came crashing down.”
The Australian native had moved to the Minnesota city to marry her boyfriend, Don, adopting his surname ahead of their wedding. He confirmed that he was in Las Vegas, Nevada, when he received a call from investigators telling him his fiancee was dead. He added that he learned she had been shot by a police officer. Don Damond described contacting Justine’s family in Australia to deliver the news as “the worst phone call” he ever had to make.