WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A former South Florida police officer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a stranded a black motorist won't be released from custody while he appeals the conviction.
In a written order filed Friday, Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx denied a request by Nouman Raja for post-trial release.
Raja, 41, was convicted of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder in the 2015 fatal shooting of Corey Jones, who was stranded on the side of an Interstate 95 exit ramp after his SUV had broken down.
In his ruling, Marx expressed "significant concern" about the possibility that Raja could flee the country if he were to be released, noting that the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer was born and lived "a large portion of his youth" in the Middle East.
"The substantial length of (Raja's) sentence and (his) vulnerable status in the prison as a former police officer are circumstances that the court finds would be very tempting and motivating to (Raja) to remove himself from the court's jurisdiction," Marx wrote.
Defense attorney Richard Lubin had argued that Raja fully complied with the terms of his house arrest while awaiting trial.
But Marx pointed out that Raja "has every motivation not to comply with the terms" of release if his conviction and sentence are affirmed.
"Moreover, the court cannot disregard the fact that the countries in the Middle East to which (Raja) has significant ties are countries with which the United States of America does not have a strong, dependable relationship," Marx wrote.
Defense attorneys argued during trial that Raja shot Jones in self-defense because the 31-year-old band drummer pulled a gun. Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, believed Raja was trying to rob him.
Raja was working undercover and never identified himself as a police officer. He was fired shortly after the shooting.
Jones' uncle, Marc Johnson, wrote a letter to Marx prior to his decision, asking the judge to keep Raja behind bars.
"There is no legal obligation by the court to grant his request," Johnson wrote in a letter dated Thursday. "Aside from legal eligibility, there is no reason to release him other than sympathy for his family. Nouman Raja is a killer. He certainly is not deserving of a release. He has already enjoyed nearly four years of freedom."
Raja, who was bearded during his April 25 sentencing hearing, appears clean-shaven in his Florida Department of Corrections photograph. Florida prisoner Q40330 is currently being held at the South Florida Reception Center in Doral until he is assigned a permanent destination for the next 25 years.