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Evidence too graphic? Judge to weigh media demand in Noor case

Friday April 5, 2019
By Jon Collins

This sketch shows inside the courtroom for ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor's trial on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Judge Kathryn Quaintance, who is overseeing the trial of Noor, has set a Friday hearing on her decision to withhold some evidence from the public she's deemed too graphic to view. Nancy Muellner for MPR News 

The judge overseeing the trial of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting death of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk has set a Friday hearing on her decision to withhold some evidence from the public she's deemed too graphic to view.

Media groups, including MPR News, are challenging the decision by Judge Kathryn Quaintance, who's ordered that body camera footage of the shooting's aftermath and autopsy photos not to be shown to the public or media attending the trial.

The organizations filed court documents this week calling the restrictions unconstitutional.

Noor's attorneys said they have no stance on the judge's restrictions. Quaintance, however, ordered Noor to be at the Friday hearing, saying it could affect Noor's case because he's in some of the footage.

"It is crucial to the case. It is highly emotional and probably will be one of the most dramatic moments of the trial," Quaintance said in court Thursday. "It is footage, as I've said before, of a human being dying."

Noor is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 because she thought she heard a woman being assaulted in the alley behind her home. Noor was one of the responding officers.

Noor's trial is still in jury selection, although the jury is expected to be seated this week and opening arguments are expected on Monday.

Thursday's hearing opened with Noor attorney Thomas Plunkett complaining that the judge had chided him for asking jurors leading questions on Wednesday, and described him as an "older male" attorney intimidating younger women in the jury pool.

Quaintance responded that she had clarified at the time that she meant older than the jurors, not old. And that if Plunkett took insult, it may be his bias at work.

Prosecutor Patrick Lofton also condemned Plunkett's complaints about "prosecutorial misconduct" during jury selection, and said Plunkett can't just describe any behavior he doesn't like as misconduct.

The court finished individual interviews with potential jurors on Thursday afternoon. In total, 23 potential jurors were eliminated for cause. Defense attorneys started to interview remaining members of the jury pool in a group of 24 to determine the final 16 jurors, which includes four alternates. They'll continue the group interview Friday morning, and then prosecutors will get their chance.

Attorneys for both sides have been asked to exchange lists by Friday afternoon of the exhibits they plan to use in their opening arguments, which may start Monday.

Correction (April 4, 2019): An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of alternate jurors who will sit on the jury.


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