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

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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. 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

Updated: April 5, 4:20 p.m. | Posted: April 4, 1:58 p.m.

  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. 

On Friday, Noor's attorneys objected to the judge's restrictions as well. 

In its objection, his lawyers said: "The Defense took no position initially. Now, reflecting, on the history of unfairness to Mr. Noor from restricted access to information, Mr. Noor, through Counsel, objects to the Court's continued practice of restricting access to information."

Quaintance ordered Noor to be at the Friday hearing, saying it could affect Noor's case because he's in some of the footage.

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor leaves the Hennepin County Government Center after the first day of trial in Minneapolis on Monday, April 1, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"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, which is expected to resume Monday morning.

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.