Depraved mind: What Officer Noor's third-degree murder charge means

From the beginning, prosecutors have tried to determine Officer Mohamed Noor's state of mind when he shot and killed Justine Damond on July 15, 2017. 

The charges filed on Tuesday indicate prosecutors believe it falls somewhere between the intent to kill, and gross negligence. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged Noor with third degree murder for perpetrating eminently dangerous act and evincing a depraved mind. It’s what's known in legal circles as a "depraved heart killing."

Minnesota's third degree murder statute reads: “Whoever, without intent…causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life…” 

But what is a depraved mind or heart?

“He reaches across, in front of his partner, shoots a gun at an object he can't see," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman in a press conference Tuesday. "That's evidence of a depraved mind in my view.”

An opinion cited in a Maryland appeals court case, Debettencourt v. State, said a depraved mind involves "a knowingly dangerous act with reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference as to whether anyone is harmed or not." It was also described as "a state of mind just as blameworthy, just as anti-social… just as truly murderous as the specific intents to kill..."

The charge was used two years ago to charge a Baltimore police officer with the murder of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody after he was driven to jail in a police van. The officer was found not guilty.

According to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, between 2007-2016 in Minnesota, 14 offenders have been sentenced for murder in the third degree involving a "depraved mind." Thirty-eight others have been sentenced in that period under a different section of the statute charging drug dealers in overdose cases.  

A couple weeks ago, a grand jury indicted Eric Coleman for third degree murder, who was allegedly drunk on a snowmobile when he killed an eight-year-old boy. The charge was used years ago against Stephen Bailey, who called himself the true master and suffocated a man during a sadomasochistic sex act.

In the end, prosecutors had to settle for second degree manslaughter, death by someone's culpable negligence, which is a secondary charge Noor faces as well. 

“I think what we're saying in this charge is that Officer Noor did not act reasonably, did not act objectively reasonably and abused his authority to use deadly force,” said Freeman.

The average sentence for third degree murder, if convicted, and without a previous criminal history, is in the range of 10 to 15 years in prison, according to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. In Minnesota, inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentence while incarcerated.