Former Florida police officer Nouman Raja was found guilty Thursday of fatally shooting 32-year-old Corey Jones on the side of a highway in October 2015.
Raja was convicted of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder. It was the first trial focused on a Florida police officer’s on-duty shooting in nearly three decades.
The two-week trial sought to determine whether the 41-year-old undercover cop intentionally shot the black musician, who was awaiting roadside assistance on Interstate 95, more than three years ago, amid a period of highly publicized police-related shootings.
After the closing arguments Wednesday, the four-man, two-woman jury deliberated for more than four hours, after being granted the option of convicting Raja on lesser charges. He could face life in prison.
A line of officers formed a line between Raja and the court’s gallery as the verdict was read. Raja was ordered remanded.
Prosecutors argued that on Oct. 18, 2015, the undercover Raja aggressively approached Jones, whose car broke down at around 3:15 a.m on his way home from a club performance.
“From the time he pulled up, his behavior and conduct was reckless,” Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis said in court. “Everything he did, he knew or should have known would have led to the death of Corey Jones.”
Raja was part of an auto-burglary investigative team and was on patrol in an unmarked car. He was wearing jeans and a baseball cap when he spotted Jones waiting for a tow truck.
The officer drove the wrong way up the exit ramp and stopped his unmarked vehicle feet from Jones, acting in a “criminally reckless” manner, prosecutors alleged, making the musician believe he was being robbed. As such, when the threatened Jones pulled out his .38-caliber handgun—which he had bought just days earlier to protect his $10,000 drum kit—the cop fatally shot him six times.
A medical examiner testified that Jones was killed by a bullet through his heart.
“I didn’t want to die,” Raja told allegedly told his police colleagues four hours after the incident that he claimed was provoked by Jones.
Audio recording played for the jury by prosecutors, however, revealed that Raja never disclosed to Jones that he was a police officer.
In that tape, Raja is hearing yelling “You good?” to which Jones replied in the affirmative. Then the undercover cop replied “Really?” twice before suddenly shouting at Jones to raise his hands. Shots were heard shortly thereafter.
Despite the evidence, the defense argued the ex-cop acted out of self-defense under the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law in response to Jones, who had a concealed-weapons permit, pulling out his gun.
“Mr. Jones’ death was not the result of any criminal act committed by Nouman Raja,” the cop’s attorney, Scott Richardson, said in his opening statements. “It was a perfect storm that turned deadly when Mr. Jones pointed that handgun and Mr. Raja, in defending himself, fired his handgun.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Chris Karpinski, however, testified that there were discrepancies between Raja’s post-incident claims and a recording of Jones’ earlier phone call to a tow-truck dispatch center. West Palm Beach Circuit Judge Joseph Marx would not allow Karpinski to elaborate.
Shortly after the shooting, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department fired Raja. In June 2016, he was charged with first-degree murder with a firearm and placed on house arrest. Raja declined to testify on his own behalf this week.
Last June, the defense was denied an attempt to dismiss the charges under Florida self-defense law after the judge concluded she did not believe Raja was fearful for his life.
“I’m just happy the judge ruled in our favor,” Clinton Jones Sr., Corey’s father, said at the time. “It’s a relief and I’m looking forward to the trial.”