MINNEAPOLIS: A US police officer who shot dead an Australian woman in 2017 was found guilty of murder on Tuesday (Apr 30) by a Minneapolis jury, ending a case that has shocked the Midwestern city and sparked outrage in her native country.
Mohamed Noor, 33, who was fired from the city's police force, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury, which began deliberating on Monday after three weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses, acquitted the former officer of the most serious charge of second-degree murder with intent to kill.
Noor was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and into custody, according to US media reports.
He testified that he shot , an Australian who had moved to the US, to protect his partner, because he had feared an ambush when responding to Damond's emergency call.
But prosecutors insisted that the shooting was unreasonable and contrary to police department training policy.
Noor targeted Damond from the passenger seat of the police cruiser he was in with his partner, Matthew Harrity.
The 40-year-old victim, a yoga instructor, had approached the cruiser after calling 911 twice to report a possible rape in the dark alley behind her home. No such assault was ever found to have occurred.
Prosecutor Amy Sweasy said Noor had violated Minneapolis police training policies and endangered the life of his partner and a teenage cyclist who witnessed the shooting.
"He pulled (the gun). He pointed, he aimed and he killed her," Sweasy said. "This is no accident. This is intentional murder."
Defense attorney Peter Wold told jurors the former officer was heartbroken over the shooting.
Noor testified that he believed there was an imminent threat after he saw a cyclist stop near the police cruiser, heard a loud bang and saw Harrity's "reaction to the person on the driver's side raising her right arm."
Noor added that when he reached from the cruiser's passenger seat and shot Damond through the driver's side window, it was because he thought his partner "would have been killed."
He said that after Damond approached the cruiser, his partner screamed "Oh, Jesus!" and began fumbling to unholster his gun.
Then, Noor said he saw a blonde woman wearing a pink T-shirt raising her right arm at the driver's window, identified her as a threat and fired.
Damond was wounded in the abdomen and died at the scene. Her last words were: "I'm dying," according to authorities.
'SAD AND TRAGIC' CASE
Damond had moved to the Midwestern city to marry her American fiancee Don Damond. She had changed from her maiden name, Ruszczyk.
Her death caused outrage back home and her Australian family was in the courtroom for the trial.
The shooting also enraged many of the victim's neighbors, who mounted a campaign for police reforms. The city's police chief at the time was forced to resign within days.
"I want to extend my sincere apologies to the family and friends of Justine Damond Ruszcyzk," Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement after the verdict.
The chief called the incident "sad and tragic" and acknowledged that it had had an impact "around the world, most significantly in her home country of Australia."
"I will ensure that the (department) learns from this case," Arradondo said.
Police officers involved in controversial shootings are rarely sent to prison, because juries and judges are loath to second guess officers' life-or-death decisions made within seconds.
US trials have mostly resulted in hung juries or acquittals, which at times have caused civil unrest in American cities where racial tensions are already high.
Another Minnesota officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was fired from his job but acquitted after fatally shooting black motorist Philando Castile in 2016.