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'I was wrong', says ex-cop before lengthy sentence for killing unarmed woman

Published:Saturday | June 8, 2019 | 9:58 AM
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor walks to the podium to hear his sentence yesterday

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman after she called 911 has admitted that he “knew in an instant that I was wrong” and apologised to her family.

The admission by Mohamed Noor came moments before a judge brushed off his plea for leniency and sentenced him to 12 years and six months in prison.

The stiff sentence capped a case that had been fraught by race from the start.

Noor, a Somali American, shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond , a white, upper-middle-class dual citizen of the United States and Australia, when she approached his squad car in the alley behind her home in July 2017.

Noor, 33, testified at trial that a loud bang on the squad car startled him and his partner and that he fired to protect his partner’s life.

But prosecutors criticised him for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands, and in April, a jury convicted him of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Some people in Minneapolis’ large Somali community and the larger black community argued the case was handled differently from police shootings across the country in which the victims were black and the officers were white.

Noor’s conviction came after Jeronimo Yanez, a Latino officer, was cleared of manslaughter in the 2016 death of black motorist Philando Castile in a nearby suburb.

The sentencing hearing was marked by emotional statements from Noor, Damond’s fiance and his son as well as her family in Australia.

Noor, his voice breaking several times as he spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time, apologised repeatedly to Damond and her family for “taking the life of such a perfect person.”

“I have lived with this and I’ll continue to live with this,” Noor said.

“I caused this tragedy and it is my burden. I wish though that I could relieve that burden others feel from the loss that I caused. I cannot, and that is a troubling reality for me.”

Noor said he was horrified to see Damond’s body on the ground.

“The depth of my error has only increased from that moment on,” he said.

“Working to save her life and watching her slip away is a feeling I can’t explain. I can say it leaves me sad, it leaves me numb and a feeling of incredibly loneliness. But none of that, none of those words, capture what it truly feels like.”

Justine’s father, John Ruszczyk, in a statement read in court, asked for the maximum sentence, calling her killing “an obscene act by an agent of the state.”

Don Damond, Justine’s fiance, said every time he sees the alley where she walked barefoot and in her pajamas toward the police car he relives the moment.

“In my mind I beg you to turn around,” he said, speaking of a “lost future” of decades filled with “love, family, joy and laughter.” He said Justine was his soul mate with “a Muppetlike way of being in the world.”

Noor was returned to the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights where he has been held in a secure unit since his conviction.

Under Minnesota law, he will serve two-thirds of his sentence in prison, assuming good behaviour, and the remaining third on supervised release.

His lawyers said they were disappointed in the sentence and hinted that they plan to appeal, which they have 90 days to do.

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