The Minnesota Supreme Court has reversed a murder conviction against Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, writing the unanimous opinion, said the evidence used to convict Noor of third-degree “depraved-mind” murder does not hold up against state law, which says depraved-mind murder only occurs when someone perpetrates an act “eminently dangerous to others” and “without regard for human life.”
“The mental state necessary for depraved-mind murder … is a generalized indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant’s conduct is directed with particularity at the person who is killed,” reads the syllabus. “The only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the circumstances proved is that [Noor’s] conduct was directed with particularity at the person who was killed, and the evidence is therefore insufficient to sustain his conviction … for depraved-mind murder.”
In 2019 Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after he responded to Ruszczyk’s 911 call about an alleged sexual assault near her home. Ruszczyk was approaching the police vehicle that arrived on scene when Noor shot her in the abdomen. He was sitting in the passenger seat and ostensibly considered her approach a potential ambush.
The unanimous Supreme Court decision is a reversal of the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ “divided” decision to uphold his third-degree murder conviction. Noor’s second-degree manslaughter conviction still remains, however, and he will face resentencing on that conviction alone.
As the Star Tribune notes, the language of an “act eminently dangerous to others without regard for human life,” a necessary component in convicting someone of third-degree depraved-mind murder, is ambiguous. Some lawyers and attorneys point to the word “others,” arguing that the charge only applies to someone who targets multiple individuals and ends up killing just one.
Others, like some judges on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, argue that the charge can apply to someone who targets and kills a single individual, which was the lower court’s justification in upholding Noor’s third-degree murder conviction.
The Supreme Court may not have shared their interpretation of the law, but what all parties can agree on is that Noor remains criminally responsible for killing Ruszczyk and will need to continue serving time for second-degree manslaughter.
“I think that the Court’s opinion in the Noor case should also result in the reversal of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction of third-degree murder in the George Floyd case,” attorney Scott Johnson writes at Power Line.
“Chauvin, however, still has to contend with his second-degree murder and manslaughter convictions, and the reversal of the third-degree charge alone would not affect his sentence,” he continues. “The Court’s ruling in the Noor case nevertheless vindicates Chauvin trial judge Peter Cahill’s pretrial dismissal of the third-degree murder charge, which was reinstated at trial on the order of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.”