Mohamed Noor repeatedly testifies shooting Damond was 'split-second decision'

The defense rested its case Friday afternoon in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, setting the stage for closing arguments to begin next week.

The last day of testimony began with Noor on the stand, facing cross examination by the prosecutors for the July 2017 shooting death of Austraila native Justine Ruszczyk Damond. He repeatedly answering that he made a “split-second decision” to fire his weapon. 

Noor took the stand to testify in his own defense Thursday afternoon—the first time he had spoken publicly about the fatal shooting. Between Thursday and Friday, he spent more than three hours testifying. 

During a tense cross-examination, prosecutors pressed Noor on why, if he so deeply believed his partner, Matthew Harrity, was in mortal danger, he did not mention anything about saving his life at the scene or announce he had no choice but to shoot. Evidence showed Noor said very little in aftermath of the shooting. 

Noor reiterated that the following added up to pulling the trigger: the teen bicyclist stopping in front of squad, a loud bang, Harrity’s reaction in the moment and Damond raising her right arm at the driver's side window.

Prosecutors asked Noor why no verbal command was given to Damond, such as “step back,” “get down” or “show your hands." Noor testified he did not say anything and that firing his weapon was a "split-second" decision. 

Noor gave that answer repeatedly during cross-examination: “I had to make a split-second decision to protect my partner.” 

Prosecutors pressed Noor on why he was surprised by a woman in the alley, when he and his partner were responding to a call of a woman screaming in the alley. Damond had called 911 twice that night to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home. 

After Noor, the defense’s use-of-force expert Emanuel Kapelsohn, testified. He detailed the shooting reconstruction, in which they used a female stand-in similar to Damond in height. The stand-in wore a pink t-shirt with an ‘X” where she was shot and Noor had mock Glock handgun with a laser in the passenger seat. 

Noor’s defense team was trying to show the distance between Damond and the vehicle when she was shot. They also were trying to document how Noor had to get up out of the seat, reach past Harrity and shoot down towards the victim’s abdomen. 

Prosecutors want to use a 3D animation they created to rebut the reconstruction, but so far the judge has said no. 

Two neighbors, who live at the end of the alley where the shooting happened, both testified for the defense. Both reported hearing multiple sounds in succession, however each neighbor had difficulty describing the exact noises. One neighbor insisted hearing more than one sound, giving credence to the defense's claim of a thud, then a shot. Prosecutors worked to cast doubt on the neighbors' stories, noting slight differences in their stories over the two years.

Closing arguments are set to begin on Monday morning.

Noor is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Damond’s shooting death. The trial, which began April 1, is poised to enter a fifth week. 

The shooting 

At 11:27 p.m. on July 15, 2017, Damond called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her house on the 5000 block of Washburn Avenue in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood. 

In his testimony, Justine’s fiancé, Don Damond, told the court that he had received a call from her a few minutes prior in which she told him she thought she could hear a woman possibly being sexually assaulted. He said he told her to call the police and stay put. That was the last time he heard from her. 

At 11:35 p.m., Justine called 911 again and said no one had arrived and she was worried they got the address wrong. 

According to the charges, Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, entered the alley on 50th Street in their squad car at 11:37 p.m. Harrity was driving. 

They neared the end of the alley at 11:39 p.m. Noor entered “Code 4” into the squad computer, which meant the officers were safe and needed no assistance.

A few seconds later, Harrity reportedly heard a thump on the back of the squad car, which startled the officers--although that “thump” has been disputed by prosecutors. Harrity testified that he was reaching for his gun when Noor reached across him and fired a shot through the open driver’s side window.  

Noor fatally shot Justine at 11:40 p.m.—13 minutes after the first 911 call. 

Harrity got out of the squad and helped guide Justine to the ground. The officers attempted to provide aid to her, but she died at the scene. 

The officers were wearing body cameras, but did not turn them on until after the shooting. Jurors watched Harrity's body camera footage earlier in the trial, which shows Justine taking her final breaths.