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Minnesota high court tosses murder conviction against Mohamed Noor, former Minneapolis police officer

Noor's second-degree manslaughter conviction still stands in the July 15, 2017, slaying of of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot a 911 caller four years ago.

Noor was also convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond on July 15, 2017, and that verdict still stands.

The former officer will be re-sentenced for the manslaughter conviction alone, as opposed to the 12 1/2-year penalty handed down to him in 2019 for murder.

Noor is now looking at a sentence of between 41 months to 57 months for that lesser conviction, a Hennepin County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said.

If he's hit with a four-year manslaughter term, the former officer should be eligible for release after doing two-thirds of that time and walk free by late this year, Noor's appellate lawyer Peter Wold said.

Noor has been behind bars since he was convicted on April 30, 2019.

"I talked to Mo this morning. It's relief, great relief," Wold told NBC News. "He has a young son and it's time they get back together."

The high court ruled that prosecutors did not prove that Noor had acted with a "depraved mind, without regard for human life," which would be needed for the third-degree murder conviction.

That statute has always been used in cases when a defendant is accused of endangering multiple people and not targeting a single individual, according to the court.

Prosecutors had argued Noor fit that description because his fatal shot at Damond could have also wounded the officer's partner or a passing bicyclist.

The court ruled it was clear Noor was only targeting the woman he killed.

"In sum, our precedent confirms that Noor is correct in arguing that a person does not commit depraved-mind murder when the person's actions are directed at a particular victim," according to the opinion by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

Image: Justine Damond Memorial
Johanna Morrow plays the didgeridoo during a memorial service for Justine Damond on Aug. 11, 2017 at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune via AP file

"The particular-person exclusion is simply another way of saying that the mental state for depraved-mind murder is one of general malice."

Damond had called 911 that night believing she heard a woman in her neighborhood being assaulted. When Damond went outside to greet police, she startled the responding officers, Noor and partner Matthew Harrity, the officers said.

Noor fired one shot, killing the innocent 911 caller Damond. Police were never able to conclude that there had been an assault in Damond's neighborhood.

Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman said his prosecutors are "disappointed" by Wednesday's ruling, but they "respect and acknowledge that the Minnesota Supreme Court is the final arbiter in this matter."

"His (manslaughter) conviction was just," Freeman said in a statement. "The case has been remanded to the trial court for sentencing and we will seek the maximum sentence possible."

The chief justice said the court and prosecutors agree that "Noor's decision to shoot a deadly weapon simply because he was startled was disproportionate and unreasonable."

"Noor's conduct is especially troubling given the trust that citizens should be able to place in our peace officers," Gildea wrote. "But the tragic circumstances of this case do not change the fact that Noor's conduct was directed with particularity toward Ruszczyk."

The city of Minneapolis agreed to a $20 million settlement with the woman's family. She was a dual citizen of the United States and Australia.