WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A former South Florida police officer has been found guilty of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder in the 2015 fatal shooting of a stranded black motorist.
The four-man, two-woman jury returned the verdict for Nouman Raja shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday.
Jurors began deliberating the fate of the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Wednesday after hearing closing arguments earlier in the morning.
After the verdict was read, Raja was handcuffed and remanded into custody.
Corey Jones, who was a drummer in a local band, 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.
Defense attorneys argued that Raja, 41, shot Jones in self-defense. Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, pulled a gun.
Prosecutors claimed Raja instigated the confrontation because he was working undercover and never identified himself as a police officer, leading Jones, 31, to believe that Raja was a robber.
Jones' family and friends celebrated in the hallways of the Palm Beach County courthouse after the verdict.
"For three long years since the heart-wrenching and senseless death of Corey Jones, his family and countless others have been waiting for justice. Today, a Palm Beach County jury delivered that justice," attorneys representing Jones' family said in a statement. "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."
Jones' father said he is pleased that his family now has justice.
"This wasn't nothing about race. This was about justice.," Clinton Jones Sr. said. "This was about the truth, and the truth caught up with him."
Raja becomes the first police officer in Florida to be convicted of an on-duty shooting in 30 years.
Miami police Officer William Lozano fatally shot Clement Lloyd in 1989. He was convicted of two counts of manslaughter, but an appeals court dismissed the verdict, saying the trial should have been moved because of racial tensions. Lozano was acquitted at a 1993 retrial in Orlando.
"We see 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," Jones' family attorneys said in their statement. "The jury saw that this disgraced officer killed an innocent man, and it's only right that he now faces the consequences of his horrendous actions. 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."
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.
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.
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. Dr. Gertrude Juste, associate medical examiner for Palm Beach County, 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.
"Our hearts go out to all of those who have and will continue to deal with the damaging effects of the tragic death of Corey Jones," city spokeswoman Candice Temple said in a statement. "This tragedy has impacted everyone from the families to our local community and beyond. We hope this verdict will allow all of those involved to begin the process of healing."
Raja had been on house arrest since he was charged in June 2016. He faces a minimum of 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced next month.
"It was a long process, but we endured, and today we have justice," Jones said.