Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in the fatal shooting of an Australian woman who called 911 for help, was sentenced Friday to 12 1/2 years in prison.
Noor, 33, fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, on July 15, 2017, after Noor and his partner responded to Damond’s call to report that she thought a woman was being sexually assaulted.
Noor testified at the trial that he heard a bang on the side of the driver’s side of the squad car and thought Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Australia, was a threat.
But a jury in late April convicted Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury found the former police officer not guilty of the top charge of second-degree murder.
Damond, a life coach, was to be married and had already taken the last name of her fiancé, Don Damond.
In court on Friday, Damond read a victim impact statement in the form of a letter to his slain wife-to-be.
"Dear Justine: I miss you so much every day, every moment. I don’t understand how such a thing could happen to you, to us," he said.
Damond said the two of them had planned to go on vacation to Egypt in fall 2018, with hopes of conceiving a child on that trip.
"We both lived with our hearts open, caring for others," Damond told the court. "Loving you had my heart grow in ways I didn’t even know it could."
Don Damond's mother, Sharon Sebring, also read a statement that was addressed to her son's slain partner.
"I miss the joy that was in Don’s face. Now it’s gone since you were so rudely taken away," she said. "The emptiness is profound."
Defense lawyer Thomas Plunkett asked for just one year and a day in prison for his client, and filed 44 letters with the court in support of Noor.
Plunkett said Noor, a Somali immigrant, gave up a successful business career to become a police officer as his way of giving back to the community.
“As things got better the debt grew and Mohamed Noor wanted to pay that debt back," Plunkett said. "That’s real integrity, That's true merit."
But Senior Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy countered that such a light sentence would make Noor's murder conviction equivalent to a misdemeanor DUI.
“Such a sentence would be wildly inappropriate in a case this severe," Sweasy said.
Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance lauded Noor's record of community service but said she couldn't cut him any slack.
“The law does not allow leniency because somebody is a good person,” the judge said. “Good people sometimes do bad things."
Quaintance sentenced him to 150 months in prison, minus 41 days in jail he's already served.
Before Quaintance imposed the sentence, Noor told the court he could not be more sorry for what he did that night.
"These are the people I work to serve and that I harmed in the worst way possible. Again I apologize," the former police officer said, his voice shaking with emotion.
"I can’t apologize enough and I will never be able to make up for the loss I called to Ms. Ruszczyk’s family.”
Damond’s death sparked outrage in the U.S. and Australia, and her family had said they were struggling to understand how she could call police for help and end up being shot dead.
The shooting also led to changes in procedures about when police turn on their body-worn cameras — neither Noor nor his partner had activated theirs — and led to the resignation of the city’s police chief, Janeé Harteau, who stepped down in July 2017 at the request of the mayor.
Noor, a Somali immigrant who had been on the job for two years, was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department after he was charged.
Noor was the passenger in the police vehicle and shot out the driver-side window. He testified that he fired after seeing what he said was fear in his partner’s eyes, and after seeing a woman in a pink shirt with blond hair appear at the partner's window and raise her right arm.
Damond called 911 twice that night — first just after 11:27 p.m. to report that she thought she heard someone possibly being raped and that she thought a woman yelled out “help,” according to transcripts of the calls.
Damond then called police back shortly after 11:35 p.m. to ask where officers were and wondering if they had gotten the address wrong. No evidence of a sexual assault was found, officials have said.
The prosecutor, Sweasy, told the court on Friday she was moved that Damond lost her life because she called police believing someone else was in trouble.
The victim's father, John Ruszczyk, had filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against Noor, Harrity, the city and police leaders, claiming a civil rights violation.
Three days after Noor was convicted, Minneapolis announced it would pay her family $20 million to settle the suit. Her family has pledged $2 million to a local charity focused on gun violence in Minneapolis.