Here are a few notes on the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor that ended in his conviction for murder and manslaughter on Tuesday:
Judge Kathryn Quaintance
Judge Quaintance is a former prosecutor; her rulings at trial tended to favor the prosecution. The defense sought to introduce evidence of the effects of “trauma” on the perception of Officers Harrity and Noor. She demanded that such testimony be based on psychological expertise, for example, and kept excluding it as the defense tried to work around her ruling. She is an excellent trial judge.
I think it was a Minneapolis jury. It was racially and ethnically diverse. It included four immigrants. One of the jurors sported a man-bun. I think Noor’s race and immigrant status benefited him with the jury. One could see the Pakistani woman perk up and lean forward whenever the defense introduced crucial evidence. The defense nevertheless had a fundamental problem with the facts of the case.
The facts of the case presented an almost unbelievable nightmare. A concerned citizen calls the police when she hears the sounds of a woman in distress in the alley behind her house in Minneapolis’s safest neighborhood. When she goes out in barefoot in her pajamas near midnight on a summer night to flag down the police, one of the officers shoots her dead. What did she do wrong?
The bodycam evidence
The prosecution played relevant bodycam evidence to make certain points over and over. The bodycam video of Justine dying is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is horrifying.
Officer Matthew Harrity
Harrity was Noor’s partner. He drove the squad car down the alley behind Justine’s house. He testified to hearing a thump and seeing a silhouette over his left shoulder when he turned to look. He bluntly stated that that his own safety is his foremost concern. This officer is still on the force in Minneapolis’s Fifth Precinct.
Noor’s testimony during the defense case was a turning point. For the first time we learned that he looked directly at her, saw the blonde woman in the pink t-shirt, and shot to kill.
The Minneapolis Police
Internal tensions on the prosecution side permeated the case. These tensions frequently manifested themselves in court as the prosecution called police witnesses. The Star Tribune devoted a good article to the subject here, but it doesn’t get to the bottom of it. Now the County Attorney has to return to a close working relationship with the police. How does that work?
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
Under the protocol for police-involved shootings, the BCA took over the investigation in the early morning hours of July 16. For two months it did a pitiful job. Why? What now?
Sweasy took over the investigation, hired Crystal Police Chief Derrick Hacker as an adviser and expert, and turned the investigation right side up.
The facts of the case made out the elements of each of the two charges of murder and one count of manslaughter. The most difficult question was whether Minnesota’s authorized use of force statute — Minn. Stat. section 609.066 — applies in this case. As one can see in Lou Raguse’s juror interview, this is the issue the jury homed in on in its deliberations. After agreeing that it didn’t apply, the jury sorted through each of the charges, starting with the manslaughter charge and moving up.
The prosecution introduced just about all the evidence in the case at trial. In her closing, prosecutor Amy Sweasy rightly said that they had placed before the jury everything that was knowable about the case. She said if she hadn’t the defense would have — particularly evidence that displayed the investigation in a poor light. Instead, Sweasy introduced it. At one point, she elicited a list of criticisms of the investigation from prosecution expert Timothy Longo.
Amy Sweasy is the Assistant Hennepin County Attorney behind the convictions. She was excellent conducting direct examinations and a monster on cross-examination. Occasionally, however, she didn’t know when to quit on cross. Her closing argument was very good. Overall, I could not believe how good she is. She is a great lawyer. She deserves to be singled out for recognition.
The expert witnesses
I can’t think of a better expert witness I have ever seen than prosecution expert Timothy Longo. His experience, his résumé, his demeanor, his response to the cross-examination — all were outstanding. He was the voice of sanity in the case. On the other hand, prosecutor Amy Sweasy’s cross-examination of defense expert Emanuel Kapelsohn all but turned him into a mass of quivering jelly. Although she carried on with it for too long, she crushed him.
Don Damond (Justine’s fiancée) was in court every day and testified as the first prosecution witness. After I expressed my sympathy for his loss, he smiled at me and said hello each morning. Justine’s family — her father, her stepmother, her brother and sister-in-law — were also in court every day, as were Noor’s father and mother. Mr. Noor appeared be be a dignified gentleman. My heart went out to all of them. This case represents both a crime and a tragedy.
The Star Tribune’s Chao Xiong was the outstanding print reporter on the case. He is, to boot, a modest guy. KARE 11’s Lou Raguse was the outstanding television reporter on the case. He is friendly, knowledgeable, and observant, although he had to leave some of his best stuff for his Twitter feed. Point of interest: the New York Times snagged a reserved media seat and then disappeared early in the case. I think it was during jury selection. If not, it was during the first day or two of evidence.
First the Minneapolis mayor sacked the police chief and then the voters sacked the mayor, at least in part because of this case. This case opens a window onto issues that deeply trouble Minneapolis. The issues persist and the window remains open.
The civil case
Minneapolis attorney Bob Bennett represents Justine’s family in the civil case against Noor, the city and others. Last year I interviewed Bob about the case for Power Line and posted a copy of the complaint in the civil case here. If you are interested in that case, please check out the post.
A personal note
I applied for a reserved media seat two weeks before the trial began. I was excluded under a process that was not disclosed under the terms of the court’s own order addressing it. That made me mad. When Power Line obtained a reserved seat that had been forfeited by another media outlet during jury selection, I felt honor bound to cover the case. I am grateful to the many Power Line readers who found something of interest in my daily series on the trial and to Loree Hinderaker, who encouraged me to stick with it. Thank you!