In this file photo taken on April 2 former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Kerem Yucel)
Minneapolis (AFP) – A police officer in Minnesota shot dead an unarmed Australian woman in 2017 because he feared an ambush, the man’s attorney told jurors Tuesday in opening arguments of a trial closely watched in the US and Australia.
Both the prosecution and defense laid out their case in a Minneapolis courtroom over the actions of Mohamed Noor, who is charged with murdering 40-year-old yoga instructor Justine Damond.
Damond had called police in July of 2017 to report sounds of a possible rape in the dark alley behind her home. Noor was in the responding police cruiser, and shot Damond when she approached the car.
The 33-year-old, who was fired from the police force, has pleaded not guilty to second- and third-degree murder charges, as well as a second-degree manslaughter charge.
Noor sat nearly motionless, looking down at his hands clasped in front of him, while his attorney Peter Wold said the former officer was heartbroken over the shooting.
He and his partner Matthew Harrity had feared they were trapped in “a classic ambush,” Wold said, which he said prompted Noor to shoot in self-defense.
“It was a perfect storm with horrible consequences,” Wold said. “It was a tragedy but no crime.”
The officers had feared an ambush because they had been forced to stop in the alley behind Damond’s home for a passing bicyclist. Moments later, they said they heard a loud bang at the back of the police car and then Damon approached, according to investigators and the defense attorney.
Noor shot Damond from the passenger seat of the police cruiser, with his partner in the line of fire in the driver seat.
The pajama-clad Damond was wounded in the abdomen, and died at the scene. Her last words were: “I’m dying,” according to authorities.
– Doubts from prosecutors –
Prosecutors have insisted that the shooting was unreasonable and contrary to police department training policy.
Hennepin County prosecutor Patrick Lofton sought to sow doubts about the claims of a loud, sudden noise that startled the officers.
Lofton said there was no forensic evidence proving Damond touched the police car, including a lack of fingerprints.
He also said Harrity claimed to hear a loud noise only days after the incident, during an interview with investigators.
“And for the first time, Harrity said he heard a noise on that squad before the defendant shot Miss Ruszczyk,” Lofton told jurors, suggesting that the claim was untrue. He used Damond’s maiden name.
“You will learn it took a long time for officers to figure out that the woman lying dead in the driveway was the same one who had called 911,” Lofton said.
The opening statements came more than a week after the closely watched trial had officially begun with jury selection. A 12-member jury was seated Monday.
Damond had moved to the Midwestern city to marry her American fiancee Don Damond, whose name she had legally adopted.
Don Damond was the first witness called to testify in the trial.
The shooting outraged Damond’s neighbors in Minneapolis and her relatives in Australia.
There were calls in both countries for answers and accountability.
Minneapolis’s then-police chief was forced to resign within days of the incident.
Disclaimer: Validity of the above story is for 7 Days from original date of publishing. Source: AFP.