Before police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, Mohamed Noor shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk. Noor, a Minneapolis cop, responded to Ruszczyk’s report of a possible assault outside her home. When Ruszczyk, in her bare feet and pajamas, went to the side of Noor’s police cruiser, he shot her in the abdomen. He was convicted of both third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April 2019. The Minnesota Supreme Court now has overturned Noor’s third-degree murder conviction and will likely do the same with Chauvin’s.
Since Ruszczyk was white and Noor black, the killing did not fit the race-baiting narrative. Nevertheless, the case received widespread attention, and Ruszczyk’s death proved to be an international affair, as she was an Australian immigrant to the United States, and Noor came here from Somalia. He entered the police department as a diversity recruit, even though he had a documented violent mental instability. Those facts led to a record payout for Ruszczyk’s family before Floyd’s family settled with the city. That was a civil matter, however.
Charges Unauthorized by the Legislature
The conviction has been overturned because the crime does not include acts targeting an individual, like Noor’s shot and Chauvin’s restraints. Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote for a unanimous court:
“Because conduct that is directed with particularity at the person who is killed cannot evince ‘a depraved mind, without regard for human life,’ and because the only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the circumstances proved is that Noor directed his single shot with particularity at Ruszczyk, we conclude that he cannot. Accordingly, we reverse Noor’s conviction of depraved-mind murder and remand the case to the district court for Noor to be sentenced on the second-degree manslaughter conviction.”
We typically see these “depraved mind” charges levied against people who act wildly and unintentionally cause a death — driving while intoxicated, for example. Since inebriated drivers likely never knew the person they killed, they could not form an intent to kill them. That’s the kind of fact pattern this type of murder was designed to punish, not one person acting against another specific person, whether the person is Ruszcyk or Floyd.
Thin Blue Line
Noor was the first former officer in Minnesota to be convicted of murder for an on-duty killing. Now he will serve out the rest of his sentence for the third-degree manslaughter charges. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, “Under state sentencing guidelines, prisoners must serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are eligible for supervised release. If Noor is resentenced to four years, he could be released in as soon as 3 ½ months.”
This is the second time charges (and now a conviction) against Chauvin have been directly affected by appellate rulings in the Noor case. In October 2020, Chauvin trial Judge Peter Cahill threw out third-degree murder charges against the cop, then accused of unlawfully killing Floyd. Then, a state appellate court reinstated the charges, and Chauvin was ultimately convicted of third-degree murder, along with unintentional second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Unlike Noor, Chauvin was only sentenced on his first-degree murder charge upon conviction. He will see no reduction in his 22.5-year sentence for killing Floyd.
Chauvin’s fellow police officers are still facing state charges. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao will be tried in March 2022. They are all also facing federal charges over Floyd’s death on civil rights violations.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.