But on Tuesday, after a monthlong trial in downtown Minneapolis, a jury handed down a verdict that is exceedingly rare in police shooting cases: Mr. Noor was guilty of murder.
The shooting of Ms. Ruszczyk, 40, set off outrage as far away as Australia, where she had lived for most of her life, and forced changes in the policies and leadership of the Minneapolis Police Department. The trial drew intense attention among Minnesota’s Somali-American residents, many of whom wondered whether Mr. Noor, who was born in Somalia, would be treated fairly.
No other Minnesota officer has been convicted in recent decades in a fatal on-duty shooting.
Jurors convicted Mr. Noor of third-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and second-degree manslaughter, which can lead to as many as 10 years in prison. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, he will likely face several years in prison, but far fewer than the maximum.
Mr. Noor was acquitted of second-degree murder, which carries a stiffer penalty.
“This is a tragic shooting that did not have to happen and should not have happened,” said Mike Freeman, Hennepin County’s elected prosecutor, after the verdict was announced.
From the start, the case had been a mystery. Mr. Noor, who was later fired by the Police Department, declined to speak with investigators about why he opened fire a few minutes before midnight on July 15, 2017. At trial, Mr. Noor, speaking publicly about the shooting for the first time, said he feared for his life when he saw Ms. Ruszczyk approaching his cruiser and made a split-second decision to shoot.
“I fired one shot,” Mr. Noor said in court, according to The Star Tribunenewspaper. “The threat was gone. She could have had a weapon.”
Prosecutors said Mr. Noor, 33, acted unreasonably — firing at a shadowy figure without a verbal warning — and that he should be convicted of murder.
“That night there was a tragic lapse of care and complete disregard for the sanctity of life,” Ms. Ruszczyk’s fiancé, Don Damond, told reporters after the verdict.