In Noor trial evidence room, simple items hold unbearable weight

Photos of Justine Ruszczyk that were admitted as evidence.
Photos of Justine Ruszczyk that were admitted as evidence in the murder trial of Mohamed Noor last month.
Riham Feshir | MPR News

The evidence is set on long tables pushed up against the walls of a big conference room on the 12th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center.

Numbered from 1 to 258, the plastic bags of clothes, photos and piles of papers are the raw materials investigators used to convince jurors of the guilt of Mohamed Noor. Last month, Noor became the first Minnesota police officer to be convicted for killing someone while on duty.

There are uniform pants sitting next to a belt. There's a bullet proof vest with a shiny gold name tag that says "M. Noor." There are pajama pants and a stained crumpled pink T-shirt that says "Koala Australia."

Ruszczyk was shot to death by former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in July 2017 after she called 911 to report what she thought was an assault happening behind her home.

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There are guns on the tables, which belonged to Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity. There is a bullet that's been splintered and flattened. It's sitting next to its casing, which was recovered outside the passenger side of the squad after the shooting.

The jury note from the Mohamed Noor trial.
A photo of the jury note from the Mohamed Noor trial after the jury had reached a verdict on the three charges. Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and was acquitted of second-degree intentional murder.
Jon Collins | MPR News

It's almost silent in the conference room. The court set aside four hours Friday in downtown Minneapolis for journalists and members of the public to inspect the original evidence.

The court set up the display after a dispute about what evidence should be released to the public. Court staff said it was unprecedented, and that evidence in most high-profile cases is examined afterward only by individuals.

In a smaller room next door, labelled C1290, court staff set up eight laptops with headphones. This is where video evidence, including graphic police body camera videos showing Ruszczyk in her final moments of life, was being displayed.

Judge Kathryn Quaintance has ordered the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to edit those graphic videos, to blur Ruszczyk's body as emergency responders try to save her life, and to mute her final attempts to breath. Quaintance cited concerns about the sensationalism of the footage.

An hour into the proceedings Friday, only three reporters had signed in to see this graphic evidence, which was shown in public at trial. They silently took notes under the watch of a sheriff's deputy.

Some of the evidence is horrific. Other exhibits are mundane: a guide to three-dimensional crime scene scanning and transcripts of officer conversations recorded on body cameras. They offer few new details that didn't come up in trial or in evidence released unexpectedly earlier in the week.

The evidence's use in court is exhausted, at least unless Noor appeals his convictions. He has 90 days after sentencing. But politicians, activists and police officers may be able to glean some insight about what happened between Noor and Ruszczyk from these numbered piles of evidence.

Longtime police accountability activist Dave Bicking was one of the few people there who didn't work for a news organization. He drove to the government center in a black and white car with "Justice for Justine" painted on it in bright yellow. He said he believes officers at the shooting scene were "hiding things."

"The body cameras on and off — officers came on the scene and acted like they had never seen a murder scene before," Bicking said. "They were like, 'What do we do? Who's doing what?' The protocols for investigation are something that are important."

There are echoes of Ruszczyk's life in the conference room, too. The photos of her home, taken as police sought to identify the victim, show a prayer flag on the wall and sparkling water on the counter. Lights are on in the rooms. And open windows look out into her alley.

There is a text message exchange between Ruszczyk and her fiance on the night she died. He was out of town, and she was home alone. It's filled with emojis and "I love you." The exchange ends with him texting her "Hello?"

In a binder that could be mistaken for a photo album is a picture of a smiling Ruszczyk, taken during her first winter in Minnesota, wearing big floppy mittens in the snow. And then there are her final photos, taken at the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.

A photo of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor
A photo of an image of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor taken by state investigators after the shooting.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Photos of Noor taken after the shooting by state investigators show him still in his uniform. He's facing the camera, then turned in profile.

Noor is currently being held at the Oak Park Heights prison. He will be in court again next month to hear his sentence.