At the Noor trial (18)

The prosecution concluded its cross-examination of Mohamed Noor. The defense called its expert witness on police practices, Emanuel Kapelsohn and called two fact witnesses — neighbors of Justine — to testify to the noise they heard in the alley (formerly a “slap,” now characterized as a “loud bang”) preceding the shot in the alley behind their houses on the evening of July 15, 2017. The defense rested its case with testimony from defense investigator William O’Keefe.

I gather that the prosecution intends to call at least one of its expert as a rebuttal witness on Monday morning. The parties will then make their closing arguments to the jury.

The Star Tribune summarizes yesterday’s testimony in narrative form here, MPR here. The Star Tribune provides a brief summary in bullet-point form here.

Judge Quaintance intends to instruct the jury and submit the case to them on Monday. She is ordering the jury to be sequestered during deliberations. She therefore warned the jurors to arrive with their bags packed on Monday. They’ll be back with a verdict next week.

In case it hasn’t been obvious so far, I want expressly to state that my goal in this series has been to convey the case accurately so that readers can figure it out for themselves — so that readers can better understand the verdict, whatever it is, than they otherwise might. Bringing my judgment to bear on the witnesses or other evidence is intended to serve that purpose, not promote any particular spin on the case. I have sought to keep my comments on trial tactics to a minimum. Both sides have skilled lawyers who know their cases intimately. I am trying to efface my sympathies from these reports.

Here are the highlights of yesterday’s testimony along with my thoughts and impressions.

• Prosecutor Amy Sweasy resumed her cross-examination of Noor with his agreement to the MPD policy that “sanctity of life…is the cornerstone” of the department’s work. She questioned his failure to turn on his bodycam video until Justine lay dying. This went nowhere.

• Noor said he wanted to talk to the stoner bicyclist. He intended to make an investigative stop. (This was the bicyclist’s nightmare; he was delivering weed to a friend.) I thought he was making this up. His testimony in court was the first time he ever said that. I thought Noor’s testimony about the stoner bicyclist was absurd in general.

• Noor never told anybody about the “loud bang” until his testimony at trial. He also planned on calling Justine (or having 911 dispatch call her) to report they had responded to her call.

• Noor has testified that he did not draw his gun until the incident unfolded. Sweasy went after Noor on this point, in part based on O’Keefe’s memo summary of Noor’s time with Kapelsohn and O’Keefe on December 28, 2018 and in part based on the buffering portion of Sergeant Barnette’s bodycam video that appears to depict Noor showing how he shot Justine from inside the car out the driver’s side window.

• In addition to the other circumstances — the loud bang, Harrity’s look back and alleged look of terror as he turned toward Noor, Harrity’s alleged difficulty drawing his pistol, the alleged raising of Justine’s right arm — Noor shot Justine because she might have had a weapon and killed Harrity.

• Noor testified that he “had to make a split-second decision.” This was a theme on which he frequently fell back during cross-examination.

• The defense conducted a brief redirect examination after which Sweasy returned for more. At one point in these exchanges Noor asserted the stoner bicyclist “wouldn’t let us pass.” Again, I thought this line of Noor’s testimony was absurd. Until Noor fired his pistol, the stoner bicyclist couldn’t get down the street fast enough.

• The defense then called use-of-force expert Emanuel Kapelsohn. As elicited on direct examination, Kapelsohn has a resume that is roughly as impressive as Tim Longo’s. He seemed to be a spectacular expert witness.

• Based on the totality of the circumstances, Kapelsohn gave the opinion that Noor’s use of deadly force was reasonable.

• Kapelsohn met Noor at the BCA impound lot to review the squad car involved in the incident. He purported to conduct a reconstruction of the incident based on Noor’s account of it to him in order to demonstrate that Noor’s account was “plausible” and to demonstrate that Noor couldn’t have shot Justine in the manner he seems to show in Barnette’s video.

• Sweasy cross-examined Kapelsohn on the “reconstruction” based on his 23-page report. This was classic cross-examination. She had Kapelsohn flustered and back on his heels. I thought she destroyed Kapelsohn on the “reconstruction.” At this point we broke for lunch.

• As we returned to court, one of the reporters asked me what I thought. I said I couldn’t believe how good Sweasy was. He commented: “She crushed [Kapelsohn].” He told me that Kapelsohn had gone untouched in the defense of the case arising from the death of Philando Castile.

• Sweasy should have quit after making another point or two after lunch, but she continued with cross-examination in which Kapelsohn was able to recover to some extent. Sweasy lost ground as she pursued lawyerly points arising from another case in which Kapelsohn had recently testified. She is such an adept cross-examiner, she seems not quite to know when to quit.

• The defense called two of Justine’s neighbors. They both heard a loud sound before a sound consistent with a gunshot. Patrick Lofton’s cross-examination of these witnesses on this point was, I thought, weak.

• The defense concluded its case with the testimony of its investigator, William O’Keefe. I think the prosecution had subpoenaed O’Keefe, so calling him as its own witness was probably a preemptive move. O’Keefe attended the “reconstruction” of the shooting of Justine that Kapelsohn conducted with Noor on December 28, 2018. He wrote memos summarizing their day on January 10, 2019.

• Did Noor have his pistol unholstered as they drove down the alley, or did he draw it based on what his description of Harrity’s alleged inability to draw his gun? One draft of the memo implied the former, a corrected version the latter. Sweasy cross-examined O’Keefe at length on this point.

The prosecution’s two expert witnesses remained in the courtroom during the defense case. As I say above, I would guess that at least one of them will be called as a rebuttal witness on Monday morning.

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