Prosecutors on Monday rested their manslaughter and attempted murder case against ex-cop Nouman Raja in the fatal shooting of stranded motorist Corey Jones.
The fifth day of the former Palm Beach Gardens officer’s trial included an FBI-produced audio compilation of key recordings in the case, graphic photos from Jones’ autopsy on Oct. 18, 2015, and two defense witnesses.
Still unclear is whether Raja will testify in his own defense on Tuesday, before closing arguments scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Circuit Judge Joseph Marx said he needs to decide if the six jurors will be sequestered at a hotel overnight Wednesday in the event their deliberations would continue into Thursday.
Prosecutors say Raja, 41, acted recklessly when he interrupted a plainclothes car burglary operation, and drove the wrong-way up an Interstate 95 exit-ramp to pull his unmarked white van next to Jones’ disabled Hyundai Santa Fe at 3:15 a.m.
Raja soon chased Jones from the SUV and fired six shots from his personal Glock pistol, striking Jones three times, including a fatal wound to the 31-year-old musician’s chest, prosecutors told the jury.
Lawyers for Raja contend that the shooting was entirely in self-defense, because Jones pointed a handgun after Raja immediately announced himself as a police officer.
Raja said in both a 911 call after the shooting, and in lengthy statements to investigators, that he was threatened and reacted by drawing his weapon. The jury reviewed that evidence last week.
For portions of the trial Monday, attention turned again to one of the biggest disputes in the case — the interpretation of Jones’ recorded phone call to roadside assistance. That audio contains the encounter between Raja and Jones and the gunshots.
It begins with Jones speaking, “Huh?” Raja then asked, “you good?”
“I’m good,” Jones replied.
Prosecutors said the recording proves Raja lied about announcing himself as a police officer, and waited 33 seconds after the sixth and final shot to call 911. On that emergency call, Raja initially acted like he was facing danger from an armed suspect, which prosecutors said was obviously not true.
The defense called on a forensic audio-video analyst to offer a different theory about the beginning of the roadside assistance call.
Frank Piazza, based in New York City, testified that Raja’s voice is 100 percent the muffled sound on the recording before the first audible word “huh?” spoken by Jones.
“I was not able to decipher the words that were spoken,” Piazza said of Raja’s voice before Jones said, “huh?”
Prosecutor Brian Fernandes then attempted to discredit Piazza’s testimony, noting how he said in a sworn statement last May that he was only 50 percent certain the voice was Raja’s.
Piazza said he changed his opinion after Raja lead defense attorney Richard Lubin told him only Raja’s and Jones’ voices could have been picked up by the microphone of Jones’ iPhone.
“I think the jury’s ears will guide them through this process,” said Piazza, who has been paid $11,000 for his work as an expert witness.
Another defense witness testified that cops involved in on-duty shootings may have distorted memories and give false statements because of stress.
Yet the expert, psychologist Philip Trompetter of Modesto, Calif., also agreed under questioning from prosecutors that officers could just as easily lie about a shooting and be intentionally deceptive about it.
Trompetter, who will be paid more than $13,000 for his work on behalf of Raja, said he was never asked to speak to the former Palm Beach Gardens officer in the 15 months that he’s been retained.
But Trompetter, speaking from the experience of talking to hundreds of cops who have fired guns at people, said that his role is merely to educate the jury about police psychology.
He explained that officers tend to become so locked into a use-of-force situation that they may give incomplete information. While not speaking about Raja specifically, he noted, “Police officers often have to make a sudden decision in response to a threat.”
There is no disagreement about what killed Jones.
Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Gertrude Juste, the state’s 33rd and final witness, told the jury that an autopsy confirmed, “The top portion of his heart is blown away.”
Other bullets struck Jones’ left arm near his elbow and the back of Jones’ upper right arm.
Another key disagreement in the case is whether Jones could have run 41 yards after he was shot in the hard; Jones’ licensed and unused gun was found that distance from his body.
Juste said Jones would have only been able to move a few feet before collapsing from the shot to his heart.
The defense contends Jones was still armed when Raja shot him, and then was able to run 41 yards.