At the Noor trial (13)

Yesterday was consumed by the testimony of Mohamed Noor’s patrol partner Matthew Harrity at the time of the killing of Justine Rusczyk on July 15, 2017. Harrity is the only eyewitness to the killing other than Noor. Harrity provided the defense its best day in court. I want to say at the top that I fear I may have misled readers on one point in a previous post. That point is at the top of my bullets below.

The Star Tribune and MPR both have good accounts of Harrity’s testimony, the Star Tribune’s here and MPR’s here. Assuming interested readers will start with one or the other of these accounts and have followed the previous posts in this series, I offer these conclusory notes and observations for emphasis:

• I stated in a previous post that the alleged “thump” on the squad car preceding Noor’s shot was invented by Sergeant Shannon Barnette, whom I found to be an untrustworthy witness. I stand by my evaluation of her credibility, but the alleged “thump” on the car came from Harrity in his interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on the third day after the shooting. It is unclear to me where it may have originated before making its way into the BCA search warrant.

• Harrity did not mention the alleged “thump” to anyone on the evening of the shooting.

• Barnette claimed to have spoken with Harrity many times about the shooting; Harrity testified that he has never talked to her at any time but the evening of the shooting (when he didn’t mention it). Harrity is to be believed on this point. Barnette may have picked it up from the BCA search warrant.

• The prosecution’s direct examination of Harrity became almost wildly adversarial toward the end. I thought that Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy made a mistake in contesting certain points unnecessarily, such as whether Harrity drove down the alley too quickly or should have decided to drive around the neighborhood looking for the source of the noise Justine heard when they didn’t find it in the alley.

• Harrity was a good witness and he is the key to the defense case. Defense counsel Peter Wold made good use of him during his concise cross-examination. When Harrity testified to the stress that he felt in the immediate aftermath of the incident, he started crying. Noor started crying. One of the jurors started crying — not a good sign for the prosecution.

• Harrity testified on direct examination that he viewed every call as a threat. He flipped the hood down on his holster and took his seatbelt off as he drove down the alley behind Justine’s house. His own safety is a primary concern. “I want to go home every night,” he said.

• He spent two minutes driving down the alley. He turned off the headlights and dimmed the computer screen to drive “dark.” He did not turn his or the squad camera on. He had the driver’s side window at least halfway down. He asserted that he wasn’t going to “mess with the camera” when he was concerned about safety. He used his spotlight to illuminate the rear of houses near Justine’s. He stopped the squad at one point when he discerned a sound. The only sound he could make out was a dog moaning barking between 5016-5020 Washburn (Justine’s address was 5024).

• Harrity stopped at the end of the alley at 11:39 p.m. and turned lights back on. Seeing the bicyclist coming down the street, Harrity waited for him to go by before they moved on to another call. The lighting was sufficient for Harrity to make out that it was a male on a bicycle from half a block away.

• Harrity scanned left and right. He had a “weird feeling” of something coming toward him to his left. He heard a voice. He heard a thump behind him on the driver’s side on the squad car. He made out a silhouette. He reached for his gun. He took the safe hood off; he took the trigger latch off.

• He removed his gun from its holster and raised it to his rib cage pointed down. He was startled. He thought it might be an ambush, but he made out no weapons; he could not make out hands. He thinks he would have exclaimed, “Oh, shit!” or “Oh, Jesus!”

• It didn’t occur to him it might be the 911 caller or the possible victim she was worried about. By this point, at the end of the alley and about to move on, he no longer had the 911 call on his mind.

• To his right there was a flash and a pop. He wondered if he had been shot. He checked himself. He thinks he saw Noor with his hand up (arm not outstretched).

• He turned back to his left and saw a woman reaching her left abdomen. He stepped out of the squad. He put his gun back in the holster. He heard the woman say, “I’m dead” or “I’m dying.” This took us to the lunch break.

• Harrity’s and Noor’s bodycam videos were played after lunch. The prosecution asked about the 15-second buffer of silence before the audio kicked in. “That’s the way the cameras are made,” he explained. Other testimony has established that the buffer is 30-seconds.

• Both Harrity’s and Noor’s bodycam video are devastating in human terms. We see Harrity administering CPR to Justine on the ground as she is bleeding to death. We hear her moaning and gasping. We hear her dying breaths. Harrity urges her to keep breathing and assures her she’s going to be okay throughout. Those of Justine’s family who were in court sobbed silently. There was a lot of crying in court yesterday.

• When Sergeant Barnette arrives, Harrity explains: “We both got spooked.” He did not mention a thump.

• After Peter Wold’s cross-examination I thought Sweasy made the critical points. He could not have lawfully shot at the silhouette he made out. It was premature to use deadly force. Death or great bodily harm was only a possibility. I’m afraid these points were lost.

• Noor walked around for 1 minute 54 seconds before joining Harrity in administering CPR.

• I thought very little of the heart of Harrity’s testimony at trial was based on his present recollection.

• Justine’s fingerprints were not found on the squad. The BCA dusted the upper two-thirds of the panels.

• I cannot reconcile Justine’s fatal wound in her abdomen on her left side (the bullet moving back toward her spine) with her approaching the squad from behind. I must be missing something.

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