Arriving on the tenth floor of the Hennepin County Government Center for the sentencing of Mohamed Noor on Friday morning, one could see that Somali supporters of the defendant constituted the vast majority of those turning out. The line of Somali supporters going through tenth floor security for the hearing was so long at 8:30, a half hour before the hearing, that I was asked to go to another floor and return later. Friends, family, and supporters of Justine Ruszczyk were few and far between.
The previous evening nearly 200 Somali supporters of Noor had gathered outside the Government Center to protest his conviction and sentencing. “The event,” according to the Star Tribune, “held just hours before his sentencing for the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, decried what community members called a racial double standard in the criminal justice system.”
Attending the trial of the “Minnesota men” — the young Somali men who were convicted of providing material support to ISIS in 2016 — I found much the same thing. Somali supporters of the defendants filled the courtroom. Every Thursday afternoon they protested the charges outside the federal courthouse. According to them, federal law enforcement had entrapped the defendants. The men charged in the case, however, had burned to join ISIS, live under the ISIS caliphate, and wage jihad. The claim of entrapment was farcical.
From within Minnesota’s Somali community there is no apparent public support for enforcement of the law against Somali community members by the authorities. Extrapolating current political and demographic trends ten years into the future, I wonder whether a Hennepin County jury would convict a Somali defendant charged with a serious crime against a white victim, whether the authorities will bother to try, or whether an old-school judge like Kathryn Quaintance will be on the bench.
Prosecution of the Noor case by his office has been a tremendous strain on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. He is in treatment for alcohol abuse. He deserves credit for assigning the case to Assistant County Attorney Amy Sweasy and sticking with it as it roiled relations with Minneapolis police. As it turned out, Sweasy had to convene a grand jury and issue subpoenas to secure the testimony of police officers involved in the case. Something is rotten in the city of Minneapolis.
The victim impact statements read to Judge Quaintance at the hearing brought Justine vividly to life. For two hours these statements mitigated the imbalance in murder trials between the present perpetrator and the absent victim.
I posted the videos of those present in court to make their statements in part 3. Justine’s Australian family provided statements to be read by members of the County Attorney’s staff and family attorney Bob Bennett. Although they weren’t present in court for sentencing, they had been in attendance every day of the month-long trial. I sat directly behind them and felt like I saw the case through their frequently tear-filled eyes.
Here is the statement of Justine’s brother, Jason Ruszczyk.
Katarina Ruszczyk is Jason’s wife. Her statement addressed the impact of Justine’s killing on her kids’ “Auntie Peanut” as well as on her in painfully intimate terms.
Family attorney Bob Bennett read the separate statements of Justine’s father and stepmother, John Ruszczyk and Marian Hefferen. Justine was the kind of woman who was deeply beloved not only by her prospective stepson, Zach Damond (the video of his statement is in part 3), but also by her sister-in-law and stepmother. You can’t help but feel their loss.