Mohamed Noor will face court for the murder of Justine Damond, pictured with her fiance Don. Picture: Supplied
Mohamed Noor will face court for the murder of Justine Damond, pictured with her fiance Don. Picture: Supplied

Judge ‘threatened’ in Justine Damond murder trial

The judge hearing the trial of a Minneapolis police officer charged in the shooting death of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, says threatening phone calls have been made to her chambers.

Mohamed Noor is going on trial this week in the July 2017 death of Damond. Noor shot her when she approached his squad car just minutes after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.

Judge Kathryn Quaintance says the threatening phone calls came after she made rulings on what evidence may be presented at trial. Judge Quaintance cited passionate public opinion about the case in explaining why jurors won't be identified in court.

It comes as jury selection began for the Minneapolis policeman who shot dead Damond.

Day one of Mohamed Noor's trial was marked by protests from activists including Ms Damond's friends and neighbours, as well as complaints that restrictive court conditions were hindering justice.

Minneapolis Judge Kathryn Quaintence is holding the trial in one of the city's smaller courts, with just 11 seats available for members of the public and media who were not assigned one of eight seats reserved in a lottery.

It came as court papers revealed new detail about the trial, which is expected to last three to four weeks.

Prosecutors plan to call more than 200 witnesses, including Ms Damond's fiance, Don Damond.

 

Justine Damond and her fiance Don Damond lived together for two years before her death. Picture: Supplied
Justine Damond and her fiance Don Damond lived together for two years before her death. Picture: Supplied

 

The unarmed Ms Damond, 40, was shot dead in her pyjamas when she called 911 for help in July 2017. The couple had planned to be married just a month later on a beach in Hawaii.

Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving the SUV squad car that responded to Ms Damond's call to investigate a possible sexual assault happening behind her home, is also among the state witnesses. He has never spoken publicly about events, but told investigators he saw a flash and heard a loud noise at 11.37pm on July 15.

Harrity's partner, Noor, had fired his service revolver across his chest and shot Damond in the abdomen. He said her last words were: "I'm dead" or "I'm dying".

Noor has never explained his actions and it is not known if he will testify at trial.

Some 75 potential jurors were being screened Monday. They were to answer a questionnaire with 66 questions before being winnowed down to 16 jurors. This would allow for a 12-person jury and four alternatives.

Judge Quaintance has sealed their identities, not for safety reasons but to protect them from overwhelming interest in the case and to stop their opinions being influenced.

Court had been adjourned until Wednesday while prosecution and defence attorneys spend the next two days researching potential jurors.

The shooting of Ms Damond drew intense international media attention to Minneapolis and sparked widespread protests from activists who had organised following two other high profile police shootings in recent years.

 

Justine Damond was killed after she called police for assistance. Picture: Supplied
Justine Damond was killed after she called police for assistance. Picture: Supplied

 

Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in 2017 of second-degree manslaughter for shooting Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter. Two officers who shot dead Jamar Clark, 24, in 2015, did not face any charges.

Noor, 33, has pleaded not-guilty to second degree murder and manslaughter charges.

The shooting led to policy change for the Minneapolis police department and sparked the sacking of then police chief, Jeaneé Harteau. Harteau, her replacement, and dozens of police officers are on the prosecution's witness list.

 

John Ruszczyk (father) speaks to media flanked by his wife (L) Maryan Heffernan (step-mother) and Jason Ruszczyk (brother) at a vigil for Justine Damond. Picture: AAP
John Ruszczyk (father) speaks to media flanked by his wife (L) Maryan Heffernan (step-mother) and Jason Ruszczyk (brother) at a vigil for Justine Damond. Picture: AAP

This reporter is on twitter @sarahblakemedia

 

sarah.blake@news.com.au



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