State rests in Nouman Raja manslaughter trial

Jurors listen to audio of fatal encounter with ex-cop who shot Corey Jones

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The state has rested its case in the manslaughter trial of a former South Florida police officer charged in the 2015 fatal shooting of a stranded black motorist.

Testimony resumed Monday in the trial of former Palm Beach Gardens police Officer Nouman Raja.

Corey Jones, 31, was stranded on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp in Palm Beach Gardens after his SUV had broken down when he was shot and killed by Raja in October 2015.

The first witness to testify for the state on the fifth day of the trial was Erich Smith, a forensic firearms examiner for the FBI.

Smith spoke about analysis he conducted, even showing X-rays of a tree that was struck by a stray bullet from the shooting. He testified about the direction from which that bullet was fired and was able to provide a general area of where the shooter would have been standing by analyzing where the bullet cartridges landed.

Defense attorneys are arguing that Raja, 41, shot Jones in self-defense. Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, pulled a gun.

Prosecutors claim Raja instigated the confrontation because he was working undercover and never identified himself as a police officer, leading Jones to believe that Raja was a robber.

Corey Jones' SUV was broken down on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp.

Before the state rested its case, the defense called its first witness -- Dr. Philip Trompetter, a forensic psychologist from California. The state and judge allowed the defense to call a witness out of order because of time constraints.

"It's not uncommon for inaccurate memories to occur as a result of an officer-involved shooting," Trompetter said as the defense tried to explain how Raja could have mistaken certain facets of what took place.

Trompetter testified that "memory impairment is simply inaccurately remembering what actually occurred."

The jury also listened to an audio timeline of the fatal encounter, combining the 911 call, roadside assistance call and dispatch radio communication.

Dr. Gertrude Juste, Palm Beach County's associate medical examiner, was the state's final witness. Juste, who performed the autopsy, concluded that the fatal shot penetrated Jones' heart.

Juste went back and forth with attorneys about someone's ability to continue moving after a gunshot wound to the heart.

Dr. Gertrude Juste, associate medical examiner for Palm Beach County, testifies in the manslaughter trial of Nouman Raja, March 4, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Defense attorneys tried to establish that Jones could have run a significant distance despite the fatal blow.

"After sustaining a gunshot wound to his heart, that's basically been blown apart?" prosecutor Adrienne Ellis asked.

"No," Juste said.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Raja was on duty at the time of the shooting but not wearing clothes that identified him as an officer.

"There had been a problem with late night auto burglaries in Palm Beach Gardens," the affidavit said. "Raja was assigned to surveillance patrol in large parking lots with the goal of locating the burglary suspects."

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 van's floorboard next to the driver's seat when the shooting occurred, the affidavit said.

The officer used his personal cellphone to call 911 after the shooting, providing his version of what happened.

"(Jones) had a silver handgun in his right hand," Raja said. "I came out. I saw him come out with a handgun. I gave him commands. I identified myself and he turned, pointed the gun at me and started running. I shot him."

Police arrived and began their investigation, searching for the gun that Raja claimed Jones was carrying at the time of the shooting. Police used K-9 officers to search the tall grass near the PGA Boulevard exit ramp and found the gun about 74 feet from the back of Jones' SUV.

Police photograph the spot where Corey Jones' gun was found in the tall grass.

Jones was found about 192 feet from the back of his vehicle, the affidavit said. Paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead at 3:32 a.m.

Raja used his personal gun to shoot Jones because his department-issued gun was in its holster inside the van, the affidavit said.

Three of the six shots that were fired struck Jones -- one in each arm and another to his chest, the affidavit said.

Police tape surrounds the Interstate 95 exit ramp to PGA Boulevard in the hours after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting.

Despite his more than seven years of experience as a police officer, Raja acted "in a tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner," the affidavit said.

Raja told police that Jones threw his gun into the grass, but the investigation revealed that Raja "continued to fire at Jones as he ran away," the affidavit said. Juste determined that the shot that struck Jones' right arm was fired from the rear.

"There is no question that Jones ran away from Raja," the affidavit said.

Investigators also determined that Jones' gun was loaded, but the chamber of the pistol was locked and the safety was on, the affidavit said.

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department fired Raja shortly after the shooting.

Raja has been on house arrest since he was charged in June 2016.

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