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Security tight as jury selection starts in Minneapolis police officer trial

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, center, enters the Hennepin County Government Center with his attorneys Peter Wold, left, and Thomas Plunkett, right on Monday, March 25. Evan Frost | MPR News

MINNEAPOLIS - Seventy-five people, known only by numbers on cards hung around their necks, began filling out juror questionnaires Monday, April 1 — the start of the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the 2017 killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.

Security was high at the Hennepin County Government Center given the high-profile nature of the case. A dozen security officers and sheriff's deputies stood outside the hearing room. Even jurors were run through additional weapons screening and were asked to turn over their electronic devices.

Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance said threatening phone calls have been made to her chambers.

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.

Every chair available to public and media at the hearing Monday was full, including reporters from Australia, Ruszczyk's native country. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.

Quaintance told the jury pool that they're not investigators and should avoid all media reports on the trial. She also told them that they'd be known only by their numbers until there was a verdict.

The state, she said, must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, adding: "There is no such thing as an innocent verdict in the American judicial system. The verdict is either guilty or not guilty."

In an order Monday, Quaintance said her office received "threatening phone calls" concerning her rulings on evidence to be allowed and excluded during trial.

Because of that, she said juror identities would remain confidential to protect them from "unwanted publicity or harassment that may endanger their impartiality."

Jurors were free to leave Monday once they finished the questionnaire. They'll be called into the courtroom starting Wednesday to be questioned by lawyers for the prosecution and defense in smaller groups.

Prosecutors also released a nine-page list of their potential witnesses. Ninety-one Minneapolis Police Department employees are listed, including now-chief Medaria Arradondo and Noor's former partner Matthew Harrity.

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