At the Noor trial (19)

The prosecution briefly called its two experts back to the stand on rebuttal. Prosecutor Amy Sweasy and defense counsel Tom Plunkett made their closing arguments. Judge Quaintance instructed the jury. Without a break for lunch, Judge Quaintance then told the jury at 2:00 p.m. that the case is in their hands. Sequestered for deliberations, the jury now considers the two murder and one manslaughter charge against Mohamed Noor.

The Star Tribune summarizes yesterday’s events in court here, MPR here. Here are the highlights along with my thoughts and impressions.

• The prosecution recalled experts Derek Hunter and Timothy Longo to the stand. Having viewed Noor’s testimony — Noor’s first public account of events — in court last week, each reiterated his testimony that Noor’s use of force was unreasonable

• Hunter rejected Noor’s claim that Noor relied on his training to shoot Justine. On cross-examination, defense counsel Peter Wold suggested that Hunter was “invested” in the prosecution based on the 600 hours he had spent advising the Hennepin County Attorney on the case. When Peter noted each of the events that allegedly prompted Noor to fire, including Harrity’s reaction to whatever he saw, Hunter asserted: “Each officer has to analyze the threat.”

• Longo too testified that his opinion remained unchanged. Noor had not testified to facts reasonably making out the threat of death or great bodily harm. Justine’s alleged raising of her right arm didn’t create an apparent threat.

• Longo relied in part on defense expert Kapelsohn’s description of the steps necessary to draw a pistol from a level-3 holster (if that is what happened). Contradicting a defense theme, Longo stated: “It took a whole lot more than a split second.”

• Longo testified that there was no obvious or visible threat of death or great bodily harm. The standard for the use of deadly force is the same regardless of the officer’s experience on the job. Minneapolis Police Department Policy places preeminent value on “the sanctity of life.” The sanctity of Justine’s life was disregarded.

• On cross-examination, Peter returned to the fear Noor allegedly saw in Harrity’s eyes as Harrity allegedly struggled to unholster his weapon. (Harrity testified to no such trouble.) Didn’t Harrity’s reaction support Noor’s perception of the risk? “Pulling the weapon out is different from firing it — which is what happened here,” Longo testified.

• That is where Peter ended his cross-examination. I’m not sure my notes have the quote quite right, but it was a high point for the prosecution. Longo was the voice of sanity in this case.

• The lawyers made their closing arguments after Judge Quaintance instructed the jury. Sweasy took about 75 minutes, Plunkett about 90. Because it has the burden of proof, the prosecution gets the last word before the jury retires. Sweasy took another 15 minutes in rebuttal.

• What did Justine do wrong? The only thing Justine did was walk up to a squad car carrying an iPhone in a gold case, according to Sweasy.

• We have presented you everything that is knowable about this case, Sweasy told the jury. You saw absolutely everything.

• Sweasy made a powerful point regarding the many officers who arrived on the scene following the shooting. None of them could understand it. No explanation was forthcoming from the officers themselves. I would say the only explanation we have on the scene is Harrity’s: Justine spooked them. If there were an explanation, Sweasy emphasized, that would have been the time to say it.

• Sweasy talked a lot — too much — about the problems with the investigation.

• Sweasy discussed the slap turned thump turned loud bang. There is no proof it occurred, she told the jury, which isn’t quite true. “No two people have described it the same,” she continued. Now that is true.

• Sweasy described Noor’s testimony as “practiced.” Noor had two themes: he had to make a split-second decision (this comes out of the Supreme Court case on the lawful use of deadly force, by the way) and he relied on his partner.

• Sweasy discussed the visible evolution of Noor’s testimony this past Thursday and Friday. She used the Noor’s testimony on the stoner bicyclist as one of her most powerful examples. She also talked about the inconsistencies between Harrity’s and Noor’s testimony.

• She talked about the inconsistencies between Harrity’s. On Noor’s own testimony, Noor easily made out Justine as the blonde in the pink t-shirt standing by the driver’s side of the squad. By this point, I noted, Sweasy had lost the jury, but I had the same reaction to Plunkett’s closing. I thought the jury tuned him out too.

• Sweasy went through the three charges and along with Minnesota law on the authorized use of force by officers. She asserted that the jury should return guilty verdicts on all three charges.

• Then Plunkett took center stage. He banged counsel table. He exclaimed “Oh, Jesus.” This case is “the perfect storm. That’s the whole case.” I don’t think that’s a great metaphor for this case, but Plunkett didn’t even bother to explain it. What if I don’t know what a perfect storm is?

• “Milliseconds. These are all the facts that matter.”

• Plunkett repeatedly characterized the facts of the case as a tragedy, not a crime. This was a motif of his closing argument.

• Plunkett emphasized that Noor didn’t have to see a gun reasonably to believe that Harrity was at risk of death or great bodily harm.

• Plunkett attacked the prosecution’s case as “sideshows” and “red herrings.” This soon morphed into “slideshows” and “red herrings.”

• When he allegedly saw Justine’s hand being raised, Noor had to assume it was bad.

• If Justine had a gun, we wouldn’t be here. Plunkett actually said that. Instead the case presents a barefoot woman in her pajamas calling the police to help a third-party. The innocent woman wound up dead in the alley courtesy of the police. If Justine hadn’t called the police, she’d still be with us.

• “What we don’t have here is a crime,” Plunkett asserted.

• Plunkett didn’t explain what “a perfect storm is,” but he did explain what a “red herring” is. A “‘red herring’ is something from law school,” he explained. What law school did he go to?

• Plunkett itemized the many “red herrings” in the prosecution’s case. What about the “slideshows”?

• Sweasy had stood before the jury with the lectern at her left side. She spoke to the jury with the aid of a few notes on the lectern. Plunkett readjusted the lectern to stand and front of it read much of his closing from a text. It was disorganized, lengthy, weak.

• Unlike Sweasy, however, Plunkett did address the burden of proof. “Beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, is the level of evidence you would need to make a serious medical decision affecting your kids, he said. I thought Sweasy’s failure to address the burden of proof was a mistake.

• Plunkett played a (false) race card from the bottom of the deck. Plunkett alleged that the prosecution had injected race into the case with its characterization of Justine as a blonde in a pink t-shirt. In her rebuttal, however, Sweasy hammered Plunkett for this. The characterization came straight from Noor on the witness stand this past Thursday. No one could have missed it.

• Once again, Plunkett asserted, the case is a tragedy, not a crime.

• Do not compromise, Plunkett urged the jury. Return three not guilty verdicts.

The jury is out. I shall return in part 20 of this series with the jury’s verdict.

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