PALM BEACH (CBSMiami/AP) – A former Palm Beach Gardens police officer was found guilty of manslaughter and attempted first degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of Corey Jones.
The verdict in the Nouman Raja trial was announced Thursday morning around 9:15 a.m.
The four-man, two-woman jury had deliberated for about four hours. Raja did not react as the verdict was read, while about 25 relatives and supporters of Jones looked on, some weeping quietly.
One said “the sweetest sound was the click of those handcuffs” after Raja was led from the courtroom.
Working in plain clothes, Raja drove his unmarked van the wrong way up an off ramp, stopping feet from Jones’ broken-down SUV at 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015. The prosecutor said Raja never identified himself and acted so aggressively that Jones must have thought he was about to be carjacked or killed. That caused Jones, a concealed weapons permit holder, to grab his gun and run as Raja repeatedly opened fire, they said.
Jones, a housing inspector and part-time drummer, had been returning home from a nightclub performance when his vehicle stalled. He had purchased the .38-caliber handgun days earlier to protect his $10,000 drum set, which was in the SUV.
Raja was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap as part of an auto burglary investigation team when he spotted Jones’ SUV. He said he first thought it was empty, but then saw Jones inside. Raja’s supervisor testified the officer had been told to don a police vest to identify himself if he approached a civilian. He did not. Prosecutors also questioned why Raja didn’t pull out the badge he had in his pocket.
What police didn’t know at first was that Jones was talking to a tow truck dispatcher on a recorded line. That recording shows Jones saying “Huh?” as his door opens. Raja yells, “You good?” Jones says he is. Raja replies twice, “Really?” with Jones replying “Yeah.”
Suddenly, Raja shouts at Jones to raise his hands, using an expletive. Jones replies “Hold on!” and Raja repeats his demand.
Prosecutors believe Jones pulled his gun and tried to get away. Raja fired three shots and Jones ran down an embankment. Prosecutors said he threw his gun, which was found 125 feet from his body, but Raja fired three more times, 10 seconds after the first volley.
Jones was killed by a bullet through his heart. A medical examiner testified that Jones would have dropped feet from where the fatal shot struck him. He also had been shot once in each arm.
Prosecutors said Raja, not knowing of the tow-truck dispatcher recording, tried to deceive investigators. He told them in a video-recorded interview hours after the shooting he said “Police, can I help you?” as Jones jumped from the SUV. He told investigators Jones then leapt backward and pointed his gun, forcing him to fire. Raja said Jones ran but turned and again pointed his gun, forcing him to fire the second volley.
Prosecutors charged Raja with manslaughter because they believed his actions created the confrontation and showed “culpable negligence,” meaning a “reckless disregard” or “conscious indifference” for Jones’ life. They charged him with attempted first-degree murder because they believed that while they couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt which of the six shots killed him, the second volley was a conscious effort to kill Jones as he ran away.
Raja’s attorneys said Jones’ initial “Huh?” shows he identified himself — the tape picked up something unintelligible and faint. They argued that he fired in self-defense.
Jones’ family gathered in a prayer circle outside the courtroom, grateful for the jury’s verdict.
“The truth will always prevail and this is what happened today and it was the truth that brought him to justice. It was the truth that sent him to jail. It was the truth that gave us justice for Corey,” said Jones’ father Clinton Jones Sr.
“We want to thank all of our friends, those that loved Corey. You stuck by us, you encouraged us, and gave us a lot of love and support,” he added. “This was nothing about race. This was about justice. This was about the truth.”
Jones said if he had the opportunity, he would ask Raja one question, “Why didn’t you let my son live?”
Jones’ family said the verdict is justice, but they’re also thinking of Raja’s family today.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s definitely overwhelming. It’s an awesome feeling but it’s also not an awesome feeling because of who gotta go down. You got an officer that’s going down, getting arrested. You got good cops, you got bad cops, you got his kids, his family,” said Corey’s brother CJ Jones.
Raja’s family, friends and supporters had little to say when leaving the courthouse.
Raja is the first officer in the state to be convicted of an on-duty shooting in 30 years.
“There are no winners here today; nothing can bring Corey Jones back. Nothing can reverse the tragedy that happened three and a half years ago but hopefully today can provide a measure of justice and closure to the Banks and Jones families and to our entire community,” said Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg.
Judge Joseph Marx set sentencing for April 26. Raja faces a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years, up to life in prison.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)