5 questions for Noor trial jury selection, defense strategy

Jury selection is underway for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. 

The court is looking for 16 jurors -- 12 who will deliberate and four alternates. Judge Kathryn Quaintance is keeping the identities of the prospective jurors concealed during the process. Individuals will only be known by a number. The judge said this is being done to keep people from influencing their opinion, not for safety concerns.

The judge told jury panel to expect the Noor trial to last three to four weeks. She ordered prospective jurors to not consume any media about the case from here on out -- no newspapers, no TV, no social media and no conversations about the case outside the courthouse.

Monday’s jury pool skewed older, white and male. FOX 9 reporter Paul Blume was in the courtroom and estimates the jury pool had about 25 women and 15 people of color out of about 75 people.

The jury selection process will resume Wednesday, April 3. See what's in the jury questionnaire here.

The shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond spurred international news coverage from her native Australia and sparked protests to reform policing in the Twin Cities.

The 40-year-old life coach had called 911 in July 2017 to report a possible sexual assault happening near her home in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis. Noor was in the passenger seat of the patrol squad. He shot and killed her through the open driver’s side window after she approached the squad from behind.

FOX 9 reporter Paul Blume has been covering the shooting, the investigation and the criminal proceedings from the beginning. He was joined Monday morning at the Hennepin County Government Center by Marsh Halberg, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, to discuss the jury selection process and defense strategy.

Paul Blume: How to do you go about selecting an impartial jury in a well-publicized trial?

Marsh Halberg: “Really tough task in this case. With social media this thing has flooded the world for two years and it’s going to be a real challenge. They’re going to go through a three-step process, a little different from most cases. They’re going to start with a questionnaire today, give it to the jurors, come back in a day or so. They’ll go to individual questions for some of the jurors and then they’ll go back into a large group questioning.”

What it that first impressions you want to show to the jurors that may decide Mohamed Noor’s fate?

“The old saying you have one chance to make a first impression, right? Mr. Noor I think will be testifying in this case. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t, shocked if he doesn’t testify. At the group session they’ll have Mr. Noor get up, turn, say good morning to the jury and make that first impression.” 

What are jurors thinking? Some of these people will know exactly what trial they are coming to.

“Everybody here is going to know they are here for the Noor trial. There will be some of these jurors that really are truly excited – I want to be on this jury, I want this civic experience, I want to go through this. So everybody’s going to push back a little bit. We don’t want you to try too hard to be on this and just try to give the right answer to try to make the grade.”

How important is it from the defense perspective to have someone that look like Mohamed Noor on this jury?

“It’s really kind of an interesting contrast. Usually we have the whole dynamic of the white police officer shooting the black man, and we have the inverse here. So it kind of changes the roles a little bit. There’s a thing called a Batson challenge, which is a fancy name for saying you can’t strike someone just because of they’re a minority. That’s something that everybody will be looking back for, to make sure they are being stricken for other reasons.

Does Mohamed Noor have to take the stand?

“To win I think he needs to take the stand. Technically, they’ve done a masterful job of not allowing him to speak until now. The first time everybody is going to hear Mr. Noor is when he’s on that stand telling his version. So many times it’s not only what you say but how you say it – the nuances, the body language, turning to the jury and looking them in the eye and explaining some things. And they will have practiced all of that over and over again with him, so it comes off very smoothly.”