Minnesota Court Tosses Cop Murder Conviction, Chauvin Not Likely Affected

  • Minnesota’s top court overturned a third-degree murder conviction against a former Minneapolis police officer.
  • The ruling will likely have little consequences for Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of the same crime.
  • Chauvin also had been found guilty of a more severe second-degree murder count.

Minnesota’s top court overturned a murder conviction Wednesday for former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.

The ruling could have consequences for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in April of killing George Floyd. 

Noor was first charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in 2018, months after Ruszczyk’s death. Ruszczyk, an Australian-American woman living in Minneapolis in 2017, had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Noor, who later testified that he was startled by a sound while responding to the call, shot through his patrol car’s window and killed Ruszczyk.

A jury found Noor guilty on both the murder and manslaughter charges in 2019. Noor was sentenced to 12 1/2 years on the murder count, but the judge did not sentence him on the manslaughter count. The city of Minneapolis separately paid Ruszczyk’s family $20 million in a settlement.

In its opinion issued Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that Noor didn’t kill Ruszczyk with the “mental state necessary for depraved-mind murder” and that the evidence was “insufficient to sustain his conviction” on the murder charge.

The court ordered a Minnesota district court to sentence Noor on the third-degree manslaughter count instead. According to the Associated Press, the presumptive sentence for Noor on the manslaughter count — which Noor did not challenge in his appeal — would be four years, and allow him to be eligible for supervised release before the end of 2021.

Prosecutors had cited an appeals court ruling in Noor’s case to give legal grounds for a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison in June, after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter.

Wednesday’s state Supreme Court ruling now gives Chauvin an opening to challenge his third-degree murder conviction in the courts. But in order to challenge his entire 22 1/2 years sentence, Chauvin would have to successfully overturn the second-degree murder conviction, which carries the most severe sentence. Legal experts told the Associated Press that such an appeal would have slim chances of success.

However, the ruling may limit additional charges against Chauvin’s police colleagues who were present during Floyd’s killing. Prosecutors accused Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, Tou Thao of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter, and had considered adding a charge of aiding and abetting third-degree murder as well. Prosecutors are now less likely to add the additional charge, according to the Associated Press.

Lane, Keung, and Thao all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and are expected to go to trial in March 2022.

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