BY MARC FREEMAN
FORT LAUDERDALE – Former police officer
The verdict was announced about 9:15 a.m. local time following five hours of deliberations over the course of two days.
Raja faces a maximum sentence of life in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for April 26.
An eight-day trial focused on the tragic encounter, recorded on audio, at 3:15 a.m. Oct. 18, 2015, in a Palm Beach Gardens highway off-ramp.
Prosecutors argued that Raja, 41, needed to be held accountable for his reckless, aggressive actions that resulting in the killing of a 31-year-old beloved musician whose SUV broke down after a Saturday night gig with his band.
They cast Raja as a liar and “disgrace” to all good police officers. They accused him of “staging” parts of the confrontation for investigators in an attempt to escape blame for never identifying himself as a cop and “hunting” Jones like a deer.
“Corey Jones’ life was taken away,” Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes said in his closing argument Wednesday. “Unnecessarily, unwarranted, unlawful … reckless disregard for a human, for a person.”
While agreeing Jones death was a terrible tragedy, the defense said it wasn’t a crime because Raja had to shoot after seeing Jones raise a loaded gun after offering police assistance.
“He had a gun pointed at him,” attorney Richard Lubin said. “He didn’t make that up.”
“The prosecution would have you think (Raja) was out hunting … somebody to kill, that this man was out there on the prowl hoping that he would kill someone,” Lubin said.
Fired six shots
Again and again, the prosecutors called attention to a recording of Jones’ call to an AT&T operator for roadside assistance. It’s this audio that resulted in Raja becoming the first local cop in 25 years to stand trial for an on-duty fatal shooting.
Jurors heard the sounds of Jones calmly requesting a tow truck, then Raja and Jones exchanging words, before Raja fired six shots from his .40-caliber Glock pistol.
Jones was hit in each arm, along with a fatal shot that tore through his heart and both lungs. Jones’ gun, which prosecutors said he only had for protection, was found 41 yards from his body.
Raja declined to testify in the trial, but the jury twice watched a video of Raja providing a voluntary and sworn statement to investigators, called a walk-through, about 4 1/2 hours after the shooting. “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,” Raja said.