Attorneys for Mohamed Noor asked a Hennepin County judge Tuesday to overturn his conviction, arguing the state had not proven the former Minneapolis police officer had a “depraved mind” when he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July 2017.
Noor’s defense team asked Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance to throw out his conviction on charges of murder and manslaughter, based on defense claims that “his actions were directed at a specific person.”
Under state law, a “depraved mind” murder suggests someone acting with a reckless disregard for another’s life.
Such a charge is more appropriate for someone carrying out a shooting spree or intentionally driving at high speeds the wrong way down a one-way street, argued defense attorneys Thomas Plunkett and Peter Wold.
“Mr. Noor reacted to a dark alley in the middle of the night, a thump on the squad, a voice, a body appearing at the driver’s side window, the startled announcement of fear by Officer [Matthew] Harrity as he reached for his firearms, and his observation that … the person in the window was raising their right arm,” the filing read.
The eight-page motion filed Tuesday also asked Quaintance to quash the manslaughter conviction.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, said, “The motion for a judgment for acquittal is a standard motion in nearly every guilty verdict by a jury or a judge. We will be responding to the motion within the next two weeks.”
It’s unclear when Quaintance, who presided over the closely watched trial, will rule on the motion.
Such motions are separate from formal appeals, said Bridget Sabo, an attorney with the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis who once worked as an appellate public defender.
“The purpose of a motion like this is to ask a district court to reverse a jury’s verdict,” Sabo said. “That is much more narrow than the options that would be available on appeal.”
Bradford Colbert, a resident adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said he expects the defense’s appeal to revolve around legal issues raised by the judge’s jury instructions and the introduction of certain evidence.
“[A motion for acquittal] is a difficult argument to make, because usually it’s up to the jury to make those determinations, and the court isn’t going to say that the jury got it wrong,” he said.
A jury took less than 10 hours to convict Noor last month of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the death of Damond.
Noor is set to be sentenced in July; he faces a potential 12-year sentence on the third-degree murder conviction and four years for the manslaughter conviction. Jurors acquitted him of the more serious count of second-degree murder.
Because Noor fired at what he “incorrectly perceived [was] a specific person posing a threat,” he couldn’t have been acting with a “depraved mind,” said the defense. That he accounted for his then-partner and a passing bicyclist before firing — and later rendered aid to the dying Damond — further supports that argument, the motion said.
“Mr. Noor’s actions show that he appreciated the potential for generalized danger, considered that danger, took steps to mitigate the danger, and fired once at a specific person,” it read.
Legal observers have singled out the third-degree murder conviction as ripe for a successful appeal by Noor.
The police union said Tuesday it has withdrawn its grievance of Noor’s firing.
The motion comes just days after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced he was taking a leave from his office to focus on his health.