WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A fired Florida police officer was convicted Thursday of manslaughter and attempted murder in the fatal shooting of a stranded black motorist in 2015.
As a result, ex-cop Nouman Raja, 41, who is of South Asian descent, faces the potential of life in prison for fatally shooting musician Corey Jones, 31.
Jones was awaiting help for his broken down SUV on the side of a South Florida highway when he was shot by Raja, who was working plainclothes and investigating vehicle burglaries in the area.
The four-man, two-woman jury had deliberated for about four hours before delivering the verdict of manslaughter with a firearm and attempted first-degree murder, according to The Associated Press. Raja had no reaction as the verdict was read, NBC News reported.
More than two dozen of Jones’ family members and supporters gathered in the courtroom for the conclusion of the weeklong trial. One relative told the AP that “the sweetest sound was the click of those handcuffs” on Raja after he was convicted.
Prosecutors say an audio recording of the shooting indicates Raja — who was on-duty but in plainclothes and driving an unmarked white van — had never identified himself.
At the time of the fatal encounter, Jones was returning home from a performance with drums valued at $10,000 in the back of his SUV when his automobile became disabled.
Prosecutor said Jones drew his legally-owned handgun because he feared he was being robbed.
According to the report, Raja shot him several times. A medical examiner testified that Jones was killed by a shot through his heart. The musician, who also worked as a housing inspector, was also shot once in each arm.
Raja’s attorneys insisted he identified himself, and should be protected by Florida’s “stand your ground” law because he believed his life was in danger.
Investigators have said that Raja didn’t know Jones was speaking to a tow truck dispatcher on a recorded line. Consequently, Raja is never heard identifying himself.
Jones is heard first, saying, “Huh?” just before Raja yells, “You good?” Jones says he is. Raja twice replies, “Really?” with Jones replying “Yeah.”
Suddenly, Raja shouts at Jones to raise his hands. Jones replies “Hold on!” and Raja repeats his demand. Prosecutors believe it was at that point in the conflict that Jones pulled his weapon. Raja fired three rounds; ten seconds later he fired three more shots.
In a statement, attorneys for the Jones family said the conviction showed “what can happen when prosecutors have the dedication to charge an on-duty law enforcement officer in the murder of an innocent black man, and what can happen when a thoughtful judge rejects a shameless ploy to use Florida’s questionable Stand Your Ground law as a shield against wrongdoing.”
“This verdict is a vindication of the good man that was Corey Jones, and an utter repudiation of a criminal who tried to hide behind a badge,” the statement said. “Though the Jones family will miss Corey for the rest of their lives, they can finally start to heal knowing that justice has finally been served.”
The Palm Beach Gardens officer was fired less than a month after the shooting. He has been on house arrest since he was charged in 2016, and is set to be sentenced on April 26.
The last time a Florida officer faced trial for an on-duty killing was in 1989. William Lozano was convicted of two manslaughter counts for fatally shooting a black motorcyclist, causing him to crash and kill a passenger. The verdict was later dismissed, and Lozano was acquitted in a 1993 retrial.