FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Florida police officer who gunned down a Black motorist whose car had broken down six years ago could legally be convicted of both manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The court said that unusual combination did not constitute double jeopardy.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the contention by Nouman Raja's attorneys that his 2019 convictions and 25-year prison sentence for the shooting of Corey Jones should be overturned. Raja's attorneys had argued that since a defendant can't be convicted of both murder and manslaughter for killing one person, a guilty verdict for manslaughter and attempted murder should also be rejected.
But the judges sided with prosecutors by a 3-0 vote, saying Raja's convictions were for distinct crimes. First, the judges focused on Raja firing two volleys of shots separated by about 10 seconds, the last as Jones ran away. They agreed with prosecutors, who argued at trial that while they could not prove in which volley the fatal bullet was fired, the second was a premeditated attempt to kill Jones and qualified as attempted murder.
Second, the judges ruled that manslaughter — an unlawful, intentional killing without premeditation — and attempted murder are not versions of the same charge. Manslaughter requires a death and attempted murder does not, they ruled.
Raja, now 43, was the first Florida law enforcement agent in nearly 30 years to be convicted and sentenced for an on-duty killing — and one of only a few officers nationwide, even with last week’s conviction of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Prosecutors contended Raja escalated what should have been a routine interaction into a deadly confrontation with Jones, a 31-year-old housing inspector and part-time drummer.
Raja, of Asian descent, was in plain clothes for a Palm Beach Gardens auto burglary investigation team when he spotted Jones’ SUV at 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015.