Noor jurors have plenty of options

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed an unarmed woman who approached his squad car after calling 911, it was catastrophic. But was it murder?

Prosecutors have given jurors hearing the case against Mohamed Noor multiple options: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree man-slaughter. The jury will ultimately decide whether any of the counts fit what happened the night of July 15, 2017, when Noor fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond just minutes after the dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia who had phoned in a report of a possible sexual assault behind her home.

As Noor’s trial prepares to enter its third week, defense attorneys not connected to the case see a larger and commonly used strategy to overcharge the case in a way that could make it easy for jurors to convict on the lesser manslaughter count.

“Juries like to be King Solomon,” said Earl Gray, an attorney on the team that successfully defended former Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez against a manslaughter charge in the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop. “They want to split the baby and give each side half.”

“Prosecution is like hunting,” said another defense attorney, Marsh Halberg, who has been sitting in on some of the key testimony. “You throw a lot of pellets up in the air and you don’t care which one brings down the bird.

“Obviously you would always like to get (a conviction on) the highest charge but you want to leave at the end of the day with some conviction.”