MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The former fiance of Australian Justine Ruszczyk Damond broke down in tears on Tuesday while testifying at the trial of an ex-police officer accused of murdering her, as he recalled the shock of learning a U.S. cop was the killer.
Mohamed Noor, 33, is charged with murdering the 40-year-old Damond when he shot her through his patrol car window in July 2017 while responding to her 911 call to report a possible sexual assault near her Minneapolis home.
Don Damond started sobbing in Hennepin County District court in Minneapolis when prosecutors asked him what he thought when he was told that his fiancee had been killed by an officer.
“I was in shock, I was shaking and I said, ‘Please treat her body with dignity,’” said Damond, whose name Justine had taken ahead of their wedding planned for August 2017.
Noor’s defense attorney Peter Wold said in opening statements on Tuesday that Noor followed his training and had good reason to be on guard when he responded to Damond’s 911 call that night. The call reported a vague threat in an alley at night, and could have been “a classic ambush scenario” and “a set-up,” Wold said.
The alley was silent when Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity drove up, Wold told a jury. Wold thumped his hand on the table in the courtroom dramatically to demonstrate the sound that Noor and his partner Harrity claim surprised them and prompted Noor to fire his gun.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Lofton disputed the defense’s claim that Damond thumped the patrol car and scared the officers, saying neither Noor nor Harrity mentioned a loud noise on the night of the crime.
The shooting, which Australia’s then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called “shocking” and “inexplicable,” added to a wave of controversial U.S. police killings of unarmed civilians, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau.
Noor has pleaded not guilty to charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which carry respective penalties of up to 25 and 10 years in prison.
Justine Damond owned a meditation and life-coaching company, according to her personal website.
Her family filed a civil lawsuit against the city and several police officers last month seeking $50 million in damages. It accuses Noor and Harrity of conspiring to conceal the facts around the shooting and failing to record the incident on their body cameras.
Reporting by Joey Peters in Minneapolis, writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown