WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Testimony resumed Thursday in the manslaughter trial of a former South Florida police officer charged in the killing of a stranded black motorist.
Nouman Raja is on trial for fatally shooting Corey Jones, who was stranded on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp after his SUV had broken down, in October 2015.
Attorneys for the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer claim he shot Jones in self-defense, but prosecutors argue the 31-year-old drummer in a local band mistook the plain-clothed Raja, 41, for a robber, causing him to pull his gun.
Jones had a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Before the jurors returned to the courtroom Thursday morning, Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx cautioned attorneys for both sides about a rumored protest being staged later in the day outside the courthouse.
"I can't stop anything that happens outside the courthouse, but I will tell everybody, if these jurors observe anything like that, I'm going to have to bring the jurors in and I'm going to have to talk to them," Marx said. "I'm going to have to ask them their feelings, and depending on what their answers are, I could be forced to grant a mistrial on this case."
Protesters indeed showed up, but the jurors were kept inside during their lunch break and never knew the protesters were outside the building.
"Corey Jones was not committing a crime," activist Tifanny Burks said. "His car broke down. If anything, he should have been helped out by Raja, not killed."
Palm Beach Gardens police Sgt. Javier Garcia, who supervised Raja at the time of the shooting, was the first to testify Thursday. Garcia testified that he instructed Raja to identify himself or call in a marked unit if he encountered anyone suspicious.
Prosecutors said Raja had been told by his supervisor to wear his tactical vest with police markings on it while working the assignment, but his vest and police radio were on the floorboard next to the driver's seat of Raja's unmarked van when the shooting occurred, the affidavit said.
Later in the day, tempers flared between lawyers when the judge heard a motion that would limit the number of medical examiner witnesses the defense could bring.
The issue at the heart of the argument was about whether or not Jones would have been medically able to run after he was shot in the heart. The state's medical examiner says no, but the defense disagrees.
"We should be allowed to put on our defense," Raja's attorney, Richard Lubin, said. "We should be allowed to say that this man easily could have run that far."
"Depending upon the injury to the heart, and depending upon what caused the injury to the heart, and depending upon how that affects the blood flow, including to the brain, as to what a body would be able to do after that injury," prosecutor Brian Fernandes said.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department fired Raja shortly after the shooting. He has been on house arrest since he was charged in June 2016.