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Six potential jurors excused for bias in Noor trial

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Inside the courtroom at Mohamed Noor's trial on Monday, April 2, 2019.
This sketch shows inside the courtroom for ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor's trial on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
Nancy Muellner for MPR News

Six members of the jury pool in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor have been excused from service because of answers they provided on a jury questionnaire. Most of the excused potential jurors expressed anti-Somali sentiments or said they've already decided that Noor is guilty or not guilty.

Noor is on trial for the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk in July 2017. Ruszczyk, who also went by the last name Damond, had called 911 to report what she thought was an assault behind her home. Noor was one of the officers who responded. He shot Ruszczyk through the open driver's side window. Noor is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Ruszczyk's killing.

The jury pool of 75 that was convened on Monday will be pared down to just 15 people, which includes a jury of 12 and three alternates.

The first potential juror was excused on Tuesday afternoon because they had a friend who was a victim of a police shooting. Another excused juror said in the questionnaire that he's "tired of cops getting away with murder," Judge Kathryn Quaintance said in court on Tuesday afternoon. A third potential juror who was excused wrote in the questionnaire that they believed Noor was innocent.

"I don't see any reason to spend a lot of time for people who identify their biases themselves, and say they already made up their mind," Quaintance said in court.

The parties in the case had agreed to interview jurors as a group. But on Tuesday the judge agreed to let the attorneys interview 15 potential jurors as individuals. The group still has almost three dozen jury questionnaires to go through together.  

Many jurors reported that they knew something of the case. 

"There's this basic, common knowledge that an Australian woman was shot after calling 911, and that there was a thump on the side of the car," Quaintance said in court. Basic knowledge, by itself, is not enough to excuse them or to interview them individually, she said.

Prosecutors expressed concern about potential jurors already believing there was a thump on the vehicle before the shooting, which Noor's former partner Matthew Harrity had reported to investigators. Prosecutors alleged in a motion last month that claims that Ruszczyk "slapped" the squad were "likely concocted by law enforcement personnel at the scene looking for an explanation for this inexplicable homicide."

Some potential jurors felt they were just too busy or had concerns about child care arrangements. Quaintance said in court that "wanting to be here is not a necessary qualification."

Attorneys will start interviewing individual members of the jury pool on Wednesday morning starting at 9 a.m., during which they expect to interview about 10 potential jurors.

The judge is also expected to release a decision on whether to admit a three-dimensional fly-through video created by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and to rule on whether expert witnesses in the case are qualified to testify.