A US court has thrown out the third-degree murder conviction of the former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for mistakenly killing the Australian woman Justine Damond.
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual US-Australian citizen who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.
He was sentenced to 12 and a half years on the murder count but was not sentenced for manslaughter.
The Minnesota supreme court’s ruling means his murder conviction is overturned and the case will go back to the district court, where he will be sentenced on the manslaughter count. He has already served more than 28 months of his murder sentence.
If sentenced to the presumptive four years for manslaughter, he could be eligible for supervised release at the end of this year.
In its ruling, the court also clarified what would constitute third-degree murder, or depraved-mind murder, saying the statute doesn’t apply if a defendant’s actions are directed at a particular person.
Caitlinrose Fisher, an attorney who worked on Noor’s appeal, said she was grateful the supreme court had clarified the law and hoped it would lead to greater equity and consistency in charging decisions.
“We’ve said from the beginning that this was a tragedy but it wasn’t a murder, and now the supreme court agrees and recognises that,” she said.
Noor’s defence team also released a joint statement, saying “fairness has been delivered” and Noor was looking forward to hugging his son as soon as possible.
The Hennepin county attorney Mike Freeman, whose office prosecuted the case, said he disagreed with the supreme court’s analysis but had to accept the decision.
Freeman said the conviction on second-degree manslaughter stood and was just.
Messages left with Damond’s fiance were not immediately returned, and an email sent to her family in Australia was returned with an automated response.
The ruling could give the former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin grounds to contest his own third-degree murder conviction for George Floyd’s May 2020 death.
But that wouldn’t have much impact on Chauvin since he was also convicted of the more serious count of second-degree murder and is serving 22 and a half years on that count.
Experts say it’s unlikely Chauvin would be successful in appealing his second-degree murder conviction.
The ruling in Noor’s case was also closely watched for its possible impact on three other former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial for Floyd’s death.
Prosecutors had wanted to add charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against them but that is unlikely now.
The three men are due to go on trial in March on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting that case, said it was studying the decision.
Noor testified in his 2019 trial that a loud bang on his squad car had made him fear for his and his partner’s life, so he had reached across his partner from the passenger seat and fired through the driver’s window.
Fisher said Wednesday that Noor had “really believed that he was saving his partner’s life that night, and instead he tragically caused the loss of an innocent life … I think just having reaffirmation that a mistake like that isn’t murder will mean more than words can say.”