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Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was supposed to spend 12 and a half years in prison after he shot and killed an unarmed Australian woman who’d called 911 to report what she suspected to be a sexual assault.
But the Minnesota Supreme Court just reversed his murder conviction, the first in the state for a police officer—and the decision could end up overturning a murder change against another infamous officer as well: Derek Chauvin.
The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that the third-degree murder charge against Noor in the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond should no longer stand because he didn’t intend to harm anyone else who was present at the time of the shooting. The decision will not only shorten Noor’s sentence by eight years, it will likely reverse the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd on multiple accounts in April.
“Chauvin will likely have his decision reversed because it is legally incompatible to say that someone is guilty of intentionally doing something and at the same time they’re guilty of unintentionally doing something,” Andrew Wilson, a partner at Wilson Criminal Defense in Minneapolis, told VICE News.
Noor, who began serving time in June 2019, is already 28 months into his original 12-year prison sentence. He was convicted for third-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder in the death of Damond.
In July 2017, Damond called 911 after hearing someone screaming for help and suspecting that a sexual assault was taking place. When Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity arrived on the scene, Noor was startled by Damond, who approached the two officers in their car. Noor fired his gun and hit Damond in the abdomen.
With his most severe charge of third-degree murder reversed, Noor will be re-sentenced to just four years in prison for the still-standing manslaughter charge. And when that happens, Noor could be a free man in as little as three-and-a-half months as Minnesota only requires inmates to serve two-thirds of their time before they’re eligible for supervised release.
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling stems from whether or not Noor acted with “a generalized indifference to human life”—as third-degree murder requires in the state—when he fired his gun and killed Damond in 2017. The state Court of Appeals ruled that he did earlier this year, but the state Supreme Court disagreed because he only intended to inflict harm toward Damond with his reckless actions.
Earlier this year, Minnesota prosecutors and the defense couldn’t agree whether Chauvin should face a third-degree murder charge after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. The main point of contention was whether the criteria for third-degree charges applied to the circumstances around Chauvin’s actions that day.
But a court eventually decided in March that the charges should stand against Chauvin—and cited Noor’s case as precedent.
Now that Minnesota’s highest court says Noor shouldn’t have been charged with third-degree murder as his conduct was intended to affect a single person, Chauvin’s third-degree murder charge could be in jeopardy for the same reason. A reversal, however, likely wouldn’t decrease Chauvin’s sentence because he was sentenced based on his other, more serious charges. (Noor will serve less time because third-degree murder was his most serious charge.)
“I don’t think it’s going to result in a reduction of his sentence,” Wilson said. “But I do think it poses real problems for that conviction to stand against him. So on appeal, they might get a reversal of that conviction.”
But even if Chauvin’s sentence goes unaffected by the state Supreme Court’s decision, he’s not through yet. Chauvin still faces federal civil charges alongside the three other former Minnesota police officers implicated in George Floyd’s death. On Tuesday, all three of them pleaded not guilty in Minnesota federal court.
Chauvin also faces two federal civil counts of deprivation of rights under color of law in connection to a 2017 encounter with a 14-year-old Black boy, in which the former cop struck the teen with a flashlight, applied a neck restraint until he passed out, and used his knee to pin him to the ground for 17 minutes as the teen’s mother looked on. He pleaded not guilty to these charges on Thursday.