Former South Florida police officer Nouman Raja must continue to serve a 25-year prison sentence for killing stranded driver Corey Jones in 2015, a state appeals court said Wednesday.
The ruling essentially ends Raja’s hopes for a new trial. And it comes amid a nation grappling with racial justice and still more police shootings and confrontations involving Black victims.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal called it a “tragic case,” but otherwise did not comment on the high-profile nature of the shooting along an Interstate 95 off-ramp in Palm Beach Gardens. And a three-judge panel rejected most of Raja’s key claims without a word, keeping two felony convictions in tact.
“We are proud of the work of our prosecutors in the Nouman Raja case and pleased that the appellate court affirmed the jury verdict,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said. “The evidence was compelling and the trial was fair. The family of Corey Jones achieved a measure of justice, as no one is above the law. “
Sheila Banks, Jones’ maternal aunt and godmother, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that her family thanks the appeals court.
“We are still suffering from the murder of our beloved Corey,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same, this hurt runs deep. We must keep his memory alive.”
A drummer in a reggae band, the 31-year-old Jones was calling for a tow truck for his broken-down SUV after a gig, when he was confronted by Raja, who had been working in plain clothes for a car burglary operation.
Raja, in a videotaped sworn statement recorded about four hours after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting, insisted he announced he was a cop, but then Jones suddenly threatened him at gunpoint.
But the prosecution had the upper hand: a recording of Jones’ call for roadside assistance, which Raja had no idea about at the time he spoke with investigators.
Prosecutors argued it proves Raja failed to identify himself as a cop, shows he was the aggressor, and illuminates that Raja lied when he spoke with a 911 operator, 33 seconds after the shooting.
One conviction is manslaughter by culpable negligence, for what the jury found were reckless actions by Raja that led to Jones’ death. The second conviction is attempted first-degree murder, for bullets that missed hitting Jones at 3:15 a.m. beside a southbound exit ramp.
In his appeal filed one year ago, Raja, 43. said the fatal shooting of Jones should be considered a “justifiable use of force by a law enforcement officer” under Florida law.
Steven Malone, Raja’s attorney, argued Circuit Judge Joseph Marx mistakenly sided with prosecutors by ruling the jury could not consider it a matter of a cop doing his job. Raja was left to call it plain self-defense, which failed to sway the jury.
But in response, the state Attorney General’s office argued, “Raja wasn’t making an arrest.”
“The jury had the ability to acquit Raja if it concluded that he was justified in using deadly force to prevent a murder or aggravated assault against himself,” wrote Matthew Steven Ocksrider, assistant attorney general. “By finding Raja guilty as charged, the jury rejected his claim of immunity.”
The appeals court on Wednesday rejected those key arguments by Raja without comment.
Malone also argued the court should at the very least throw out one of the counts, because it was a violation of the law to divide “the homicide into two charges, resulting in two convictions and sentences for the same conduct.”
The appellate court found that the two convictions did not violate the law.
During the trial, defense lawyers repeatedly insisted it was not “a racial killing.” Prosecutors still told the jury that “a Black man on the side of the road” deserves justice.
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Banks says her nephew, who worked by day as a Delray Beach city housing inspector, was shot multiple times “for no apparent reason.”
Wednesday’s ruling means that a wrongful death lawsuit by Corey Jones’ father, Clinton Jones Sr., can proceed in federal court. He’s suing Raja and the city of Palm Beach Gardens.
State records show Raja is at a state prison in Ocala with a scheduled release date of Feb. 27, 2044.