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Juror reflects on Noor verdict

A juror who helped determined the guilty verdict in the Mohamed Noor trial spoke to KARE 11.

MINNEAPOLIS — A juror in the Mohamed Noor trial contacted KARE 11’s Lou Raguse on Tuesday evening after they convicted the former Minneapolis Police Officer of 3rd degree murder and 2nd degree manslaughter and agreed to answer questions.

Raguse verified the juror’s identity but agreed not to use the juror’s name because of privacy concerns he expressed and fears of being contacted after serving on the jury for such a high-profile trial.

RELATED: Noor found guilty of 3rd-degree murder, manslaughter in fatal shooting of unarmed woman

Raguse: First can you describe how you guys came to the decision you made?

Juror: Most of the deliberation, all of yesterday and the beginning of today was talking about use of force and how it applied here, and if he exceeded that force which was applicable here. A few hours after we reported today at 9 a.m., we unanimously agreed that the force used was excessive for the situation. We talked about manslaughter 2 for a while. We were digging through the law that was stated, and the elements and stuff like that for a good while. There was conversation back and forth. There wasn’t any juror in the room who was being belligerent or anything like that. Opinions varied. We made sure everyone was listened to and heard. The jurors who were not sure or in the not-guilty camp eventually agreed that yeah, manslaughter 2 was committed, and we went from there.

Raguse: How was the room divided? How many were in favor of convicting vs. acquitting, and how did that change through the process?

Juror: Our initial vote for manslaughter 2 was 8 guilty, 2 unsure, and 2 not guilty. Their talk of not guilty was more along the lines of, “we need to talk about this further, and I’m not quite sure.”

Raguse: How long did it take before they switched sides?

Juror: 90 minutes. Two hours maybe. Everything until 11 or noon today was about use of force. (Meaning they didn’t start deciding the actual charges until noon.)

Raguse: What were some of the other reasons given on each side when the jury was divided, meaning what did you need to overcome to reach a unanimous decision?

Juror: A lot of it was just not really understanding the legal terms used in the documents they provided us, so we needed to go through line by line and break it down and make it easier to understand. Once we had discussions, we used a lot of examples of stuff, like an example of how it would work. Like if you get angry and you throw your television out the window, you didn’t intend to kill anybody, but the act you did is unreasonable and unsafe that would be expected to kill somebody. That was an example that was used. Even just looking down at your phone while driving and you run over somebody. It was back and forth between the two sides. It wasn’t hostile or belligerent or anything like that, it was just a casual conversation with people not necessarily agreeing then coming to a consensus eventually.

RELATED:  A timeline of the Justine Ruszczyk Damond shooting 

Raguse: When it came to Murder 3, was it kind of similar?

Juror: I would say Manslaughter 2 was probably a little harder to come to. The first vote we had on Murder 3, it actually was unanimous. But we obviously wanted to discuss it before we took an official (final) vote. There were discussions about depraved mind. There was a lot of confusion about that, but in the notes it kind of had a legal definition, then we kind of broke it down line by line. Going through it, “OK, does this apply to the Noor case? Does this apply to the Noor case?” We all agreed that the elements all involved it and eventually we voted guilty on it. I remember the true, true dissent didn’t start until Murder 2.

Raguse: What made you not want to go guilty on Murder 2?

Juror: A lot of the testimony and evidence, there wasn’t a whole lot dealing with intent. I think the fact he only fired one bullet and she didn’t fall down immediately, and they specifically had been trained to keep firing until the subject or threat is down on the ground, at that point, we really didn’t feel that we had the evidence and testimony to support what his frame of mind intended. I think pretty much everyone in that room agreed that he probably had the intent of killing her, but there was reasonable doubt. There just wasn’t the testimony and evidence to make that happen, I guess.

RELATED: A look back at the Mohamed Noor trial 

Raguse: What was the most compelling piece of evidence or testimony that led to your decision?

Juror: I think the prosecution’s expert witnesses really nailed it home. Longo, with his experiences being a Baltimore cop forever. When (Peter) Wold cross-examined him and said something along the lines of, “Well how would you know? You’ve never been in that situation.” And Longo started listing off at least three or four different times he came close to using his weapon. That resonated with us a lot. At that point, when the prosecution got to its expert witnesses, to me I’m not really sure what the defense was trying to do there. Their cross-examination, in our eyes, was not really all that effective.

When the prosecution rested, the defense brought out Noor and brought out their expert (Emanuel Kapelsohn.) Watching Sweasy work on those two on cross was enlightening and painful at the same time because it almost seemed like they didn’t have a plan how to answer her questions. In my opinion, and I can’t speak for everybody in that jury room, but I felt like that case was lost (for the defense) between the two experts witnesses on the prosecution side and Noor and Emanuel Kapelsohn.

Kapelsohn always felt a little off. Trying to show photos off his cell phone in the middle of testimony was probably the most embarrassing moment of the trial. Doing crime scene recreations without showing measurements, and the whole lifting the fingers and going “bang,” doing the demonstration of Noor’s weapon and Harrity’s holster was just weird. Plus, his testimony in the other case where he was arguing against almost an identical set of facts did hurt his credibility a little bit.

Raguse: What did you think of Noor’s testimony?

Juror: I have a lot of respect for the Somali community. I’m old enough to remember the Time Magazine article in ’93 or ’94 with the starving children on the cover, so that kind of resonated. He seemed very genuine to me. I don’t think he was a bad guy. I think he was a good guy. By all accounts during the trial, it seemed like he had good training, was a good cop. And unfortunately, he just made the worst mistake he could in about two or three seconds time. I feel bad for the guy. I feel bad for his family. But we determined he committed a crime. And in the end, no one is above the law.

Raguse: Do you think Justine slapped that police car?

Juror: I would say she probably, in my opinion, did make contact with the car. But we didn’t really feel that was super-relevant. Yeah, officers get startled all the time, and she poses no threat. And if Harrity had screamed “gun” or “weapon” or “shoot” or something like that. Or if Noor had testified that even if he had seen the cell phone and he had mistaken it as a gun, we could understand it. It was two seconds-time, he made a bad mistake, and even if you have a split-second decision, you’re still responsible for the decisions you make. Police officers have to adhere to their training. Part of that is following the mental checklist of, “is this person a threat?” And clearly that wasn’t followed here.

Raguse: Do you think Justine raised her right hand the way Noor described it?

Juror: It’s possible. A lot of Noor’s testimony, I don’t want to say we ignored, but we took with a grain of salt because of the discrepancies between his and Harrity’s testimony. Noor’s testimony of the events essentially was a contradiction of Harrity’s. He felt genuine when he was talking about his past and upbringing, but something just felt off when he started talking about the events of that night. Being able to talk about calls and events earlier that night in specific detail but have no recollection of important events afterwards. We didn’t take a lot stock in his testimony because the forensic evidence supported Harrity’s testimony. Sweasy asked him tough questions, yeah, but he really never had any answer besides “I was trying to protect my partner/That’s how I was trained/I have no recollection” and everything just felt off. I’m guessing the defense felt like he had to testify after what Harrity said, but man, I can’t even think off the top of my head of one benefit that came for defense after watching it.

Raguse: What did you think of those discrepancies?

Juror: We put more stock in Harrity’s testimony. The forensic testimony with the gunpowder and whatnot supported Harrity’s claim. I’d say we put more stock in Harrity’s testimony. I wouldn’t say we outright discarded Noor’s testimony, but we took it with a heavy grain of salt.

Raguse: And you decided the use of force was unreasonable?

Juror: I’ve never been able to wrap my head around what he saw or what he heard that would make him think to fire that weapon. If he had seen a cell phone in her hand and mistaken for a gun. I couldn’t necessarily say I would have acquitted him if that had happened. But it did change the dynamic for a lot of us.

Raguse: What were your thoughts on all the testimony suggesting the Minneapolis Police and BCA didn’t do their jobs?

Juror: In our deliberations, anything that happened after the firing of the weapon, we didn’t really go over. Afterwards, there was a period of an hour and a half to two hours where we were left on our own before everyone could assemble (after the verdict was reached but before it was read in court,) we did talk about concerns about the behavior of certain Minneapolis Police Officers at the scene. Specifically, we were concerned that it seemed that more officers were concerned about Noor keeping his mouth quiet than figuring out what had happened. Sgt. Barnett’s testimony concerned us a lot. Her general demeanor during the trial. She had told (Homicide Lt. Rick Zimmerman) that Justine was probably a drunk or a drug addict or crackhead or something along those lines. To make that comment about something where you don’t know what happened. And the whole drama with the public safety statement. Did she take it or did she not take it? She said she got it from Harrity, and then Harrity said he never talked to her after the initial conversation that was caught on body cam. There was just a whole bunch of mess on that end. We were concerned about that.

The judge did come in after the verdict was read and talked to us a little bit. And we had concerns of how the BCA didn’t take this as seriously as they should have, at least initially. How could this not be investigated property? We were all concerned about.

Raguse: Did you appreciate hearing all that stuff over the course of the trial?

Juror: Initially with all the police officer testimony, a lot of it was just to introduce their body cam footage. I wouldn’t say we ignored it, but at least initially we were like, “Why are we seeing this? This isn’t really relevant.” And later on it became apparent when there was something going on with the Minneapolis police. I want to be clear, I don’t think there was a grand conspiracy or anything, but there was definitely, we could sense a rift between Minneapolis police and the prosecution, the way they were interacting on the stand.

Raguse: But it didn’t lead to your decision one way or another?

Juror: Anything that happened after the shot was fired, we did not talk about or consider.

Raguse: Were there any turning points during the trial that you can pinpoint?

Juror: I’d say up until probably the last two or three witnesses for the prosecution, I would say I probably would have acquitted based on the information at hand. At that specific time with those specific facts. Until they put it at the end with their two expert witnesses, I didn’t really find the prosecution to be beyond a reasonable doubt. Their two expert witnesses really resonated. Just the fact two police officers, even though they don’t work in the Minneapolis Police Department, are testifying against another police officer, I think that resonated pretty well. I don’t know if everyone in the jury room had the same opinion, but we definitely felt that there is a blue wall of silence in some sense.

Raguse: Were you left with any lingering questions, like “Why didn’t we get an answer on this?” Or “I wish we got an answer on that.”

Juror: I think throughout the trial we kind of had the feeling there was something we weren’t being told. We sensed a pretty big rift between MPD and the prosecution. And I think we guessed that there was something going on there. But I don’t think in terms of facts of the case, I don’t think we were not told anything specific that we needed to know. I’ve literally not read a word about anything except checked a few Twitter accounts after the verdict, so I don’t know if anything was left out that would have changed our decision.

Raguse: Do you think Harrity helped the prosecution or defense more?

Juror: Ultimately, I think the prosecution. Just the way he testified, he was very clear that he was going through the process of his mental checklist. He had said something along the lines that you always need to be able to identify your target fully before you’re able to use deadly force. Harrity’s testimony probably resonated even more after Noor’s testimony because we were able to figure this out in deliberation, but there were pretty big discrepancies there. And the forensic evidence supported what Harrity testified.

Raguse: On a personal level, what was it like for you to serve on this jury for a full month and what kind of weight does this high-profile case have on you?

Juror: During the early portions when we were watching body camera footage of Justine dying, it was highly emotional. I’m not really a super emotional guy, but you know, you do get a lump in your throat. The noise – I will never forget that as long as I live. We didn’t really hear that part until Harrity’s body cam footage. That is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Note: Lou contacted the juror Wednesday morning to ask a couple follow-up questions. 

Raguse: Concerning the sounds Justine called 911 to report. What do you think it was? What did you think of the prosecution’s testimony about the elderly woman with possible dementia?

Juror: It was pretty apparent there was some kind of noise and it worried Justine enough to call Don and 9-1-1 several times. I don’t think anyone could say with any certainty what it was, and trying to figure it out is pretty much impossible.

The fact that Noor and Harrity both testified that they didn’t believe the two calls about a woman in distress could possibly be related is puzzling. We talked about it a little bit in deliberations. There was a short debate about how relevant it was in regards to the use of force, but there wasn’t any consensus one way or the other to factor it in (I and a couple others felt it was relevant,  others were in the no camp). We determined that use of force wasn’t justified without factoring in the two calls, but I do personally believe the officers should have been aware of the possibility of them being related.

Raguse: Back to the 3rd degree murder conviction, do you remember anything more specific about which factors from the evidence made that decision more clear? 

Juror: We had a couple of jurors with experience with firearms, including one with military training. One of the first things you are taught is that you absolutely never discharge a firearm at something or someone in or close to your line of fire. 

The forensic evidence supported Harrity’s testimony of what happened, so it was unanimously concluded that Harrity was dangerously close to being shot as well. Combined with the fact that Noor failed to properly identify a threat lead us to decide that the entire act was so reckless to everyone in that line of the bullet there really wasn’t any way to say it wasn’t. It’s such an egregious use of firearms at such a basic fundamental level that you wouldn’t even think of ever doing that except in the case of the most absolute dire circumstances in which you would have no other choice. 

We had already unanimously decided that lethal force was unjustified so that action alone was the biggest reason we collectively agreed on murder 3. We didn’t discuss this part in the deliberation because of hindsight, but afterwards a bunch of us felt that it was far more likely that Harrity would have been shot and killed by crossfire than Justine having a weapon and attempting to kill the officers. 

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