The bullet that fatally struck Justine Ruszczyk Damond in a south Minneapolis alley two years ago pierced a major artery, an injury that would have been difficult to survive even with immediate medical intervention, a doctor testified Wednesday.
Jurors on Wednesday heard 911 audio and saw video and photos of the crime scene in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who is charged with killing Damond on July 15, 2017, after responding to her call about a possible rape behind her home. Evidence was introduced as disputes between the defense and prosecution continued to mar the proceedings.
Assistant Hennepin County Medical Examiner Lorren Jackson testified Wednesday afternoon that the bullet entered Damond’s lower left abdomen, traveled through her stomach and small intestine and lodged in her spinal column.
It pierced her iliac artery, a “primary branch” of the aorta, causing her to lose a large amount of blood quickly.
“With that loss of blood, even very quick help would not be enough” to save Damond’s life, testified Jackson, who walked the prosecution through several autopsy photos displayed in court.
Jackson collected 1.6 liters of blood from Damond’s abdominal cavity, “a large volume” for someone her size — 5 feet 7. The injury would take “seconds” to bring someone down, he said.
Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, performed CPR on Damond immediately after the shooting. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Toxicology tests later revealed no drugs or alcohol in her system.
Earlier in the day, jurors heard audio of the 911 call Damond made reporting that she had heard “sex sounds” that had been “going on for a while” in the alley behind her house, but was unsure whether the woman making the noises was in danger.
“I think she just yelled out for help,” she said at one point, before saying again that “I’m not sure” whether the woman was calling for help.
A dispatcher on the call told her that police were on their way, but when they didn’t immediately show up, Damond called back a short time later to find out where they were.
“Hi, I just reported one but no one’s here and was wondering if they got the address wrong,” she said. “5024 Washburn Avenue South … it’s supposed to be Washburn Avenue South.”
She is heard saying that the incident happened in “the lane behind the house,” as the dispatcher assured her that police would arrive soon.
Shortly afterward, she was killed about 11:40 p.m. after Noor fired his weapon through the driver’s side window of his squad.
Prosecutors played video and displayed 66 photos of the crime scene, showing Damond covered in a white sheet with the top of her head exposed and her left hand and foot protruding beyond the sheet. Her iPhone, covered in a gold glittery case, lay near her feet.
Adam Castilleja, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) who took the video and photos, testified that there was a streetlight next to the front passenger seat of the officers’ squad. Noor was sitting in the passenger seat.
Castilleja said streetlights extended up the western side of the alley that Noor and Harrity had traveled before the shooting occurred. He described the lighting as “low” and “dim,” but strong enough to illuminate faces so that he was able to identify a former colleague at the scene. Castilleja is a former Minneapolis police officer.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy seized on the opportunity to further the prosecution’s case that Noor acted unreasonably when he shot Damond, and that he should have taken “seconds” to identify her first.
“You didn’t need any special light to see [an officer] there?” she asked.
No, said Castilleja, who arrived at the scene about 2 a.m. when it was still dark.
Damond’s fiancé, Don Damond, looked down while many of the photos were displayed. He testified Tuesday. Justine’s father, brother and another relative were also in attendance Wednesday.
Noor’s father and other supporters were also present.
Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett tried to counter the streetlight evidence when he cross-examined Castilleja in the afternoon. The defense has argued that the officers were spooked by a loud bang on their squad and feared they were being ambushed, causing Noor to shoot at a figure that appeared at Harrity’s window raising an arm.
Plunkett asked Castilleja if he recalled telling prosecutors on a previous occasion that there was enough light to see a face but not read a book. Plunkett emphasized Castilleja’s ability to identify faces that “you know.”
Camera footage in dispute
On Wednesday, Plunkett filed a motion to exclude the body camera footage of lifesaving efforts Noor and other officers performed on Damond, arguing that it is prejudicial. When Plunkett first mentioned Tuesday that he would consider filing the motion, he drew objections from Sweasy and skepticism from Judge Kathryn Quaintance regarding the timing.
Plunkett acknowledged in his motion that it should have been filed earlier, but wrote that “Unfortunately, the State’s unwillingness to disclose its trial exhibits in advance of trial has created a situation where counsel for Officer Noor is left to react to exhibits as the case progresses.”
The accusation drew a strong response from Sweasy, who noted that the defense has had the evidence for a year.
“We’re tired of being accused of this,” she said.
In dispute was more than 85 pieces of evidence that may be presented at trial, including at least 17 body camera videos from 13 officers, including Noor.
Prosecutors have put jurors on alert to pay attention to body cameras, saying in their opening statement that Noor’s supervisor turned hers off at the scene while talking to him about the shooting.
“The defense strategy appears to be waiting until the last minute to indicate their position on various things,” Quaintance said.
She agreed to hold off showing body camera footage until she had an opportunity to review the relevant case law.
Noor has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder with intent, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.