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More in Noor jury pool struck for bias, refusing to presume innocence

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Inside the courtroom at Mohamed Noor's trial on Monday, April 1, 2019.
This sketch shows inside the courtroom for ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor's trial on April 1, 2019.
Nancy Muellner for MPR News

Updated: 5:52 p.m. | Posted: 2:18 p.m.

Ten more potential jurors were excused by the court Wednesday for bias and other conflicts in the trial of Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the 2017 killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk. That brings the total number of excused jurors in the case to 16, out of an original pool of 75. 

Wednesday's interviews with potential jurors were mostly held individually to deal with matters the judge didn't want discussed among groups of jurors. 

While many of the prospective jurors on Tuesday were excused because of anti-Somali or anti-police bias they reported on their jury questionnaires, the interviews with possible jurors on Wednesday touched on a wider range of issues. 

One potential juror has a sister who works for the Minneapolis Police Department and has talked about the case with her. They were excused. 

But a 21-year-old Minneapolis firefighter was not excused after being interviewed, even though he slightly knew three people on the witness list and worked regularly with Minneapolis police officers. He insisted under questioning that he could be fair, and said that he believes that even first responders should be held accountable for their actions.  

[He] "could be a very good juror on this case," Judge Kathryn Quaintance said after he left the courtroom. "But there's a risk. There's always a risk." 

Two male jurors were excused because they said not getting a paycheck during the trial, which could last a month, would be a devastating financial hardship for their families. 

A potential juror who is the single mother of two young children was not excused after she told the court that she would have trouble arranging child care and was concerned about her work as a cleaner. Quaintance told her that "everybody has kids," and that she still is required to serve for two weeks. The woman said her mother and aunt are helping to watch her children, but that she'll ask friends to help take care of them if she's chosen. 

The trial's third day revealed how far and wide the high-profile case reached everyday residents of Hennepin County. Almost everyone in Wednesday's session said they'd heard about the case through news articles, workplace discussions or online posts.

One juror, who appeared to be white and in his 40s, said he'd seen online posts about Noor after the shooting happened claiming Noor was an "equal-opportunity hire" and not qualified to be a police officer. The potential juror said his brother-in-law is a St. Paul police officer, and his sister works for a judge in Wisconsin.

The man said the posts and coverage of the case he's seen earlier "would probably be there in the back of my mind" after hearing other evidence, but that he also takes the posts with a grain of salt. He was not excused and could still be chosen as a juror. 

Another possible juror, a young woman who appeared to be white, was questioned extensively about her opinions on police brutality. She said she believes the criminal justice system discriminates against people of color and favors police. She mentioned the case of Jeronimo Yanez, who was acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile, but also acknowledged she didn't know all the facts in both cases. 

Quaintance accused Noor's attorney Thomas Plunkett of trying to put words in the woman's mouth. 

"I think everybody struggles with police brutality, and I think everybody struggles with murder or death or violence," Quaintance said in court.

That potential juror said she's able to consider all of the evidence. "But at the same time, I do feel slightly jaded," she said. She was not excused and could still be chosen as a juror.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys also clashed a few times during the day. Plunkett accused prosecutor Patrick Lofton of "gamesmanship" after Lofton made an objection to Plunkett's examination of a potential juror. 

"I don't think it's fair to ask, 'Can you put the bias out of your mind?' without knowing what that bias is," Plunkett said to the judge. 

Soon after, the judge again chided Plunkett for his questioning of a young woman who was excused after admitting that it would be difficult for her to presume Noor's innocence because she felt a bond with Ruszczyk. 

Court is set to resume on Thursday morning, when more individual interviews are scheduled. Starting sometime Thursday, attorneys and the judge expect to start interviewing potential jurors in groups of 24.