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Trial begins for US ex-cop who fatally shot Australian woman

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Prosecutors say Somali-American Mohamed Noor opened fire on Justine Damond in Minneapolis in July 2017 while seated in the passenger seat of his squad car.

[CHICAGO] Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman, provoking outrage in the United States and in the victim's home country.

Prosecutors say Somali-American Mohamed Noor opened fire on Justine Damond in Minneapolis in July 2017 while seated in the passenger seat of his squad car.

The 40-year-old yoga instructor had approached the cruiser after calling twice to report a possible rape in the dark alley behind her home.

The Australian, whose maiden name was Ruszczyk, had moved to the US to marry her fiancee Don Damond.

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She was shot once in the abdomen and died at the scene.

Ms Damond's killing sparked outrage in Minneapolis and her native country, which since has translated to intense interest in the case as it moves to trial.

Controversial police shooting cases in the US have proven difficult to prosecute, however, with few officers sent to prison.

Outside the courthouse Monday, a spokeswoman from the organisation "Justice for Justine" called for accountability.

"Systemic issues extend far beyond this one shooting, this one officer, this one trial," Katherine Hamburg told reporters.

"The fight for justice must continue until the institutions and cultures that shield police from accountability are dismantled."

Dozens of prospective jurors were given initial instructions Monday and handed questionnaires. Court proceedings ended by late morning and were scheduled to resume Wednesday.

Prospective jurors were to turn in written answers to 66 questions, including whether they owned firearms or knew anyone of Somali decent.

Prosecutors also filed a nine-page list of potential witnesses that included Matthew Harrity, Noor's partner on the night of the shooting.

NOOR'S WORK HISTORY BARRED 

Noor was fired from the police force after the incident and charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.

He has pleaded not guilty.

The murder charges carry sentences of up to 25 years for the second-degree charge and up to 10 years for the third-degree count.

The prosecution has claimed Noor acted unreasonably - shooting at someone he did not clearly see while his partner was in the line of fire.

Noor's attorneys have indicated they plan to mount a self-defence argument. Attorney Tom Plunkett has said his client "acted as he has been trained and consistent with established departmental policy."

Minnesota Public Radio said Noor was deemed "asocial and socially introverted" in his pre-employment psychological test, but that there were no signs of disqualifying mental illness.

Police officers involved in controversial shootings are rarely sent to prison, because juries and judges are loath to second guess officers' split-second, life-or-death decisions.

Trials have mostly resulted in hung juries or acquittals, which at times have caused civil unrest in American cities where racial tensions are already high.

The Damond shooting enraged many of the victim's neighbours, who mounted a campaign for police reforms. The city's police chief at the time was forced to resign within days.

Another Minnesota officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was sacked but acquitted after fatally shooting black motorist Philando Castile in 2016.

There were several days of protests in another Midwestern city - Saint Louis, Missouri - in 2017, after a judge concluded there was not enough evidence to convict former officer Jason Stockley for shooting Anthony Lamar Smith after a 2011 car chase.

In Chicago, Jason Van Dyke, who is white, was convicted of the 2014 murder of black teen Laquan McDonald. The 17-year-old was shot 16 times by the former officer, with most of those bullets striking the teen after he fell to the ground.

AFP