Ruling in 30 days on Raja 'stand your ground'

Ruling in 30 days on Raja 'stand your ground'
  • A two-day “stand your ground” hearing wrapped up on May 8 for former the Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Nouman Raja, charged with killing Corey Jones in 2015.
  • Raja’s attorney and state prosecutors will send their written closing arguments to the judge in two days
  • The judge said she will issue a ruling in 30 days.

Emotions flared in a packed Palm Beach County courtroom Tuesday as arguments resumed in the "stand your ground" hearing against former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the shooting death of Corey Jones.

A woman sitting with the Jones family collapsed crying in court during the testimony of the medical examiner that conducted the autopsy of Jones after the fatal 2015 shooting.

Raja is charged with manslaughter and attempted murder for shooting and killing Jones in Oct. 2015 on the Palm Beach Gardens Blvd exit ramp of Interstate 95 when Jones' car broke down.  His attorneys are asking Palm Beach County Judge Schosberg Feuer to dismiss the charges, saying the shooting was justified. Day one of the hearing lasted eight hours.

Jones' family, attorney Benjamin Crump and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin made a statement before Tuesday's hearing and offered their thoughts on the first day of the hearing.

Boldin said he's attending the hearing to make sure Corey Jones gets his day in court.

"Breaking down on the side of the road shouldn't be a death sentence," said Boldin.

The defense called Dr. John Marraccini, a forensic pathologist and former Palm Beach County Medical Examiner, as their first expert Tuesday morning.

Marraccini demonstrated the wounds on Corey Jones by pointing to spots on his own body.  Jones was shot three times. One bullet hit Jones' right chest, went inside his body, struck his lungs, and lodged inside, Marraccini said. He called this shot the lethal wound.

He held up a toy gun to show the potential scenarios between Jones and Raja standing on the side of the exit ramp. It's possible Jones was holding a gun and pointing it at Raja when shot since his arm had to be extended for the bullet to enter on his side, Marraccini said.

The other bullets hit Jones in his left and right arms, records show.

When hit, Jones blood pressure dropped but he might have been able to "sustain activity" for a period of time, Marraccini testified. He said it's possible for Jones to have traveled 166 feet after shot.

"The bullet trajectories don't work unless there's some lean," Marraccini said of Jones' body stance when he was struck. Jones was left-handed.

Prosecutor Adrienne Ellis countered Marraccini's theory that Jones was holding a gun and pointing it at Raja when he was shot. Marraccini agreed that there's no evidence to prove Jones was holding a gun.

Ellis said Jones could have been in a defensive stance, holding onto trees to block gunfire.

Next on the stand was PBSO detective Kenny Smith, the lead detective at the time investigating the shooting. Smith conducted a walk-through with Raja immediately following the incident.

Raja said in the walk-through he saw a laser on the gun. Investigators determined there was no laser on the gun, but believe a traffic light was flashing that could have been what Raja identified as a laser.

A crime scene investigator for PBSO testified to conducting a light reflection test to see a position Jones could have been standing where the traffic light could have reflected off the gun. Prosecutors say there's no way to know exactly where Jones stood.

Palm Beach Gardens Police sergeant Andrew Spragg was the first to arrive on scene after the shooting. Spragg, now retired, said Raja was standing by the front of his van holding a pistol.
Raja told Spragg a suspect had a gun and threw it in the grass, Spragg told the courtroom.

Under the change in Florida's "stand your ground" law, it is the state's burden to prove Raja was not defending himself in order for the charges to not be dropped.

"Was the defendant wearing only jeans and a t-shirt whenever he shot Corey Jones?" prosecutor Brian Ferdandes asked Palm Beach Gardens Police sergeant Javier Garcia.

Garcia was Raja's supervisor the night of the incident. He assigned Raja to work in a plainclothes operation to help crack down on car burglaries in the city.

"While he's in plainclothes, isn't he still supposed to be readily identified as a police officer?" Fernandes asked.

"Yes," Garcia said.

Raja was not wearing his issued police tactical vest and did not have his police radio on him when he got out of his unmarked van to talk to Jones. Garcia said that went against his order.

The state called multiple law enforcement officers and experts to the stand to try to prove that Raja acted recklessly. Prosecutors say Raja never identified himself as an officer which is why Jones grabbed his gun for protection.

"I basically said Officer Raja failed to follow accepted police practices in his initially approach to intestate the disabled vehicle," said Dan Libby, a police practices expert for the prosecution.

Ellis said after the hearing she felt they met the burden of proof by "clear and convincing evidence.

Raja's team of attorneys declined to comment after court.

Schosberg Feuer ordered both sides to submit their closing arguments in writing by May 14. She said she will issue a written ruling in 30 days.

If Schosberg Feuer rules in favor of Raja, the attempted murder and manslaughter charges will be dropped. Raja will head to trial if she rules he does not qualify for the "stand your ground" defense.

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