Prosecutors blasted former police officer Nouman Raja as a “reckless killer” and liar at the start of his much-anticipated trial Tuesday in the shooting death of stranded motorist Corey Jones along an Interstate 95 off-ramp.
“Instead of being Corey Jones’ saving grace, he was his angel of death,” Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes told the Palm Beach County jury. “He made a decision to shoot first and ask questions later … disgracing the badge that men and women wear.”
But the defense said dangerous police work shouldn’t be “second-guessed” in a situation where Raja clearly acted in self-defense during the stressful encounter at 3:15 a.m. Oct. 18, 2015, in Palm Beach Gardens.
“Mr. Raja was lawfully and justifiably defending himself after Mr. Jones pointed a loaded handgun,” attorney Scott Richardson said. “He had every right to defend himself.”
Raja, 41, is charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder in the encounter with Jones, a 31-year-old housing inspector who also played drums for a reggae band. Raja was working a plainclothes car burglary operation, and Jones was at a gig in Jupiter in the hours before their paths collided.
The opening statements by the lawyers included a look ahead at one of the key pieces of evidence and controversies in the case: An audio recording of Jones’ call to roadside assistance service that captured sounds of the confrontation between Raja and Jones and all six shots from the officer’s personal gun.
Prosecutor Fernandes said it is proof that Raja “at no time acted like a law enforcement officer” because he “aggressively approached” Jones and treated him “like nothing but a mere criminal.”
Jones had the gun to protect his expensive drum kit, and it was “reasonable” for Jones to take it out when he was approached by an unmarked white van and had “zero indication [Raja was] a law enforcement officer.”
The defense insisted Raja identified himself as a cop, though those exact words are not on the recording, and suddenly was facing a “life-and-death situation.”
“Mr. Raja saw the handgun that Mr. Jones pointed at him,” Richardson said, noting Raja’s statement to investigators that he saw a red laser from Jones’ gun.
It was actually the reflection of Jones’ gun from a red traffic light, the attorney explained. He showed the jury a photo taken later by investigators who re-enacted what Raja must have seen that night.
Jurors already have heard testimony from three witnesses: a bandmate who tried to help Jones restart his Hyundai Santa Fe; Jones’ brother, Clinton Jones Jr., who took a call from Corey Jones minutes before the shooting; and the call-center operator who was speaking with Jones about getting him a tow truck when Raja showed up.
This story will be updated. Check back for more information.