A US police officer has been sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison for shooting an unarmed woman who had called 911, and apologised in court for “taking the life of a perfect person”.
Mohamed Noor was convicted in April of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter over the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual citizen of the US and Australia.
Noor shot her when she approached his patrol car in the alley behind her home in Minneapolis.
Noor’s lawyers had argued for a light sentence, saying sending him to prison would only compound the tragedy, and that incarceration would not let him do service to make amends for killing Ms Damond.
But Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced the 33-year-old to the recommendation under state guidelines.
An emotional Noor, his voice breaking as he spoke about the shooting for the first time, said he could not apologise enough.
“I have lived with this and I will continue to live with this,” he said. “I caused this tragedy and it is my burden. I wish though that I could relieve that burden others feel from the loss that I caused. I cannot, and that is a troubling reality for me.”
Noor said from the moment he pulled the trigger he felt fear and when he saw her body on the ground he was horrified.
“Seeing her there, I knew in an instant I was wrong,” Noor said. “The depth of my error has only increased from that moment on.
“Working to save her life and watching her slip away is a feeling I can’t explain. It leaves me sad, it leaves me numb, and feeling incredibly lonely. But none of that, none of those words capture what it truly feels like.”
Noor’s lawyers argued in a court filing that nobody would benefit from a long sentence, and that being in prison would keep Noor from making amends for killing Ms Damond by doing good works in the community.
They submitted letters of support they said showed that Noor is a kind, peaceful man who has tried to be a bridge between Somali Americans in Minnesota and the larger community.
Tom Plunkett, Noor’s lawyer, made the case for a lenient sentence saying the victim cannot be forgotten but what is best for the community and Noor must also be considered.
But prosecutor Amy Sweasy called for the sentence recommended under state guidelines.
“The law is not concerned necessarily with what’s good for the community,” Ms Sweasy said. “The court must give a sentence proportional in severity to the crime committed.”
Don Damond, Justine’s fiance, said in court on Friday that every time he sees the alley where she walked barefoot and in her pyjamas towards the police car he relives the moment.
“In my mind I beg you to turn around,” he said, speaking of a “lost future” of decades filled with “love, family, joy and laughter”.
He said she was his soulmate and he misses her “every day, every moment”.
“We both lived with our hearts open, caring for others,” he said.
Noor testified during his trial that a loud bang on the car scared him and his partner, and that he saw a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. He said he fired to protect his partner’s life.
But prosecutors criticised Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Ms Damond’s hands, and disputed whether either of them really heard a bang.
Ms Damond’s father John Ruszczyk, in a statement read in court, asked for the maximum sentence and called her killing “an obscene act by an agent of the state”.
“Justine’s death has left me incomplete — it is as if I have lost a limb or a leg. I have lost my daughter, I have lost those private conversations over tea.”