It’s been a quarter-century since a cop stood trial in Palm Beach County for an on-duty shooting.
The tipping point for prosecutors in their decision to charge Raja the following June was the discovery of a recording of Jones’ call to roadside assistance.
The audio contains both the confrontation and the gunshots, evidence they say belies Raja’s self-defense claims.
It’ll be up to a jury to decide.
The jurors in the 1994 trial of a sheriff’s deputy in the killing of a fleeing suspect delivered a not guilty verdict on a manslaughter-type charge.
Here’s what you need to know about the Raja case as jury selection began Thursday:
Where was Corey Jones before the shooting?
Corey Lamar Jones spent the evening doing what he loved, playing drums for his reggae band called Future Prezidents. The 31-year-old Jones, who was single, had a respectable day job too, working as a housing inspector for the city of Delray Beach.
After a band gig in Jupiter, Jones was driving to his home west of Lake Worth when his Hyundai Santa Fe broke down about 1:30 a.m. along a southbound Interstate 95 exit ramp at PGA Boulevard. Unable to get the SUV going — even with the help of a Road Ranger at one point — he called for a tow truck.
In the glove box, he had a licensed gun bought just days earlier to protect himself and his expensive drums.
Where was Nouman Raja that night?
Nouman Khan Raja started his work shift at 7 p.m. and for a number of hours drove a patrol car. Later he switched to a plainclothes assignment of driving an unmarked white van around local hotel parking lots in an effort to catch car burglars.
Just after 3 a.m., Raja was responding to a call for a disturbance at a Marriott hotel. That’s when he spotted the Hyundai parked on the west shoulder of the I-95 off-ramp. Raja got a supervisor’s permission to check what he assumed was an abandoned SUV.
What happened next?
There’s no dispute that Raja drove the wrong way up the ramp and pulled the van up close diagonally to Jones’ Hyundai.
Raja got out and left behind his tactical vest, police radio and department-issued gun. Raja wore an inside-out untucked tan T-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers and a ballcap with the Caterpillar bulldozer company logo. He still carried his personally owned .40-caliber Glock pistol.
Prosecutors said Raja acted in a “tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner.”
In a 45-minute statement Raja gave about four hours after the shooting, he claims he quickly announced he was a cop.
Jones then almost immediately pointed his licensed .380-caliber handgun at the officer, Raja says in the video recording the jury will see.
“I said, ‘Hey, man, police, can I help you?’ and that’s when he … jumped back and pointed the gun at me,” said Raja, who is accused of firing six shots from his Glock in a matter of seconds, hitting Jones three times.
Was it self-defense?
Raja was unsuccessful last year in convincing the trial and appellate courts that he deserved immunity from prosecution under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
But he can still raise the same defense at the trial. In his statement, Raja explained he had no choice but to defend himself — also thinking of his wife and two young children, now ages 7 and 9 — so he pulled out his weapon and fired.
Raja insisted: “I identified myself as a police officer … and this guy’s tryin’ to kill me and I was, and I, I didn’t wanna die.” He made a similar claim in a 911 call.
Why don’t prosecutors believe Raja?
Jones’ recorded call for roadside assistance — the prosecutors say it’s the “most unbiased piece of evidence” — proves Raja actually never announced he was a cop and was the initial aggressor, they say.
Raja “rushed toward Corey, chasing him from the cover of his own vehicle … the only logical conclusion that a citizen such as Corey could reach … was that he was about to be the unfortunate victim of a violent crime. And that is exactly what happened,” prosecutor Brian Fernandes wrote.
What’s on the roadside assistance call?
The audio starts with loud chimes from Jones’ open car door and Jones says, “Huh?” as Raja approached him.
“I’m good. Yeah, I’m good,” Jones said.
“Really?” Raja responded. “Yeah,” Jones said.
At that point, Raja begins screaming, “Get your f—— hands up! Get your f—— hands up!”
“Hold on! Hold on!” Jones insists.
“Get your f—— hands up! Drop!” Raja said.
Within the next two seconds, the first volley of gunshots is heard on the recording.
Did Jones fire his gun?
Jones’ pistol, found 41 yards away from his body, was never fired, investigators said.
But Raja’s weapon was emptied.
According to an autopsy report, one bullet struck Jones’ left arm near his elbow. Another shot penetrated the back of Jones’ upper right arm.
But the fatal wound was a bullet that passed through part of his heart and both lungs.
What are the charges?
Raja, 41, has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts: manslaughter by culpable negligence while armed and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm.
The manslaughter charge is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The attempted murder count is punishable by up to life in prison.
Wait, how can it be attempted murder?
Some observers have said it doesn’t appear to make sense to have an attempted murder charge in a case where there is a dead victim.