Jury selection begins in Nouman Raja manslaughter trial

Former South Florida police officer charged in fatal shooting of Corey Jones

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Ian Margol - Reporter

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Jury selection began Thursday in the manslaughter trial of a former South Florida police officer charged in the 2015 fatal shooting of a 31-year-old black musician.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Nouman Raja will attempt to seat a jury in the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer's trial.

Attorneys for both sides began the process of weeding out any potential jurors who felt they couldn't be impartial. 

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 on Oct. 18, 2015. 

Jones' family sat in the courtroom during the jury voir dire.

"Who here, before they came to this courtroom today, knew nothing about this case?" Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx asked the 100 people called for jury selection Thursday.

Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx speaks to potential jurors during jury selection for the manslaughter trial of Nouman Raja, Feb. 21, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Raja's defense team recently filed a motion seeking a change of venue, saying he cannot get a fair trial in Palm Beach County before of intense pretrial publicity.

"There is nothing wrong with knowing anything -- knowing something -- about the case, so I don't want you to be inhibited (or) scared," Marx told the prospective jurors. "The lawyers want you to tell the truth."

One man told attorneys he had actually met Jones before the shooting.

"My daughter introduced me to him," he said. "We spoke briefly about some things we had (in) common."

Although a previous judge rejected an earlier attempt by the defense to squash the trial under the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, Raja's attorneys are expected to argue that Raja shot Jones in self-defense.

Defense attorney Richard Lubin has argued that Raja feared for his life because 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.

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. Dr. Gertrude Juste, an associate medical examiner in Palm Beach County, performed an autopsy and determined that the gunshot wound to Jones' chest was what caused his death.

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.

This is the first time a Florida law enforcement officer is facing trial in an on-duty killing since Miami police Officer William Lozano shot Clement Lloyd in 1989.

Raja, 41, has been on house arrest since his arrest in June 2016. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Attorneys are expected to continue questioning more potential jurors Friday morning. Another 100 people have been summoned for jury duty.

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