The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal voted unanimously last week to uphold the conviction of a former Palm Beach police officer who fatally shot a Black motorist who pulled over after his vehicle stalled on a Florida interstate.
Nouman Raja’s attorneys had argued that his 2019 convictions for manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder in the 2015 killing of Corey Jones should be rejected because a person can’t be convicted of both murder and manslaughter for killing one person.
Raja’s attorney, Steven Malone said at a Feb. 24 hearing that the convictions violated the merger doctrine, which dictates that a defendant will only be charged with the greater offense if they commit a single act that simultaneously fulfills the definition of two separate offenses.
A three-judge panel of the court unanimously sided with prosecutors and voted not to overturn the conviction.
Raja, a 43-year-old man of South Asian descent, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Circuit Judge Joseph Marx for killing the 31-year-old housing inspector.
According to the judges, Raja’s convictions are for two distinct crimes he committed on the day of the shooting and don’t violate the state’s double-jeopardy clause.
Jones, also a part-time drummer, was on his way home from a performance at his church when he was spotted by Raja, who was in plainclothes as part of an burglary detail on Oct. 18, 2015.
Jones’s vehicle had stalled on an Interstate 95 off-ramp, and he was talking to AT&T roadside assistance on a recorded line, a call that would help seal Raja’s conviction. During the call, the former officer drove his unmarked van the wrong way on an off-ramp and approached the SUV Jones was in.
Jones had a concealed carry permit for the handgun he carried to protect the $10,000 drum set in his vehicle.
According to prosecutors, Raja did not identify himself and approached Jones so aggressively that he thought he would be carjacked or killed.
According to the recording from the tow truck dispatcher, Jones said, “Huh?” as his door opened. Raja yelled, “You good?”
“Yeah I’m good,” Jones said.
“Really?” Raja asked twice.
“Yeah,” Jones said.
Raja then suddenly shouted, “Get your f-ckin hands up! Get your f-ckin hands up! … Drop!”
Several shots were fired as the dispatcher exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!”
Ten seconds of silence passed before more shots were fired.
In a 911 call made after the shots were fired by Raja, who did not have his radio with him, he told the dispatcher that Jones was holding a silver handgun. His body was found 200 feet from his SUV.
Prosecutors said Jones pulled his gun and attempted to flee, before Raja fired three shots. Jones continued down an embankment and threw his gun as 10 seconds passed before Raja fired again. He was struck in the heart and in both arms.
Before he learned there was an audio recording of the encounter, Raja told investigators he approached the vehicle and said, “Police, can I help you?” and claimed Jones had drawn his gun and pointed it at him multiple times, which forced him to fire another round of shots.
Raja claimed that Jones was “giving commands … yelling and screaming. I’m like, ‘Drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun.’ And as he’s running, he gets about like right — just a little past where the guardrail starts, and he’s, he does this number, and I see his whole body spin, and I saw like a flash, a silver flash, it was like a metallic flash come at me.”
Prosecutors said Jones never fired his weapon and tossed it before the second shots were fired. Judge Melanie May, one of the three judges, noted that the transcript of the phone call “reflected a very different version of what happened.”
According to judges, the second volley of shots was premeditated and demonstrated an intent to kill Jones, which justifies the attempted murder conviction. The judges also said manslaughter is a distinctly different charge from attempted murder because it requires a death, while attempted murder does not.
Raja was the first Florida police officer in three decades to be convicted in an on-duty shooting.