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A former Florida police officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday after being convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder in the fatal shooting of a stranded black motorist in 2015.
Nouman Raja, 41, was facing life in prison for killing Corey Jones, 31, who was waiting for help for his broken-down SUV on the side of a South Florida highway when Raja shot him. Raja remained silent during sentencing.
"This has been a heartbreaking case," Circuit Judge Joseph Marx said. "I think it has had a profound effect on every single person that has sat through this trial."
Jones was returning home from a nightclub performance early on the morning of Oct. 18, 2015, when his SUV broke down on an off-ramp of Interstate 95.
He had drums valued at $10,000 in the back of his car and pulled out his legally owned handgun because he feared he was being robbed, prosecutors said.
Raja was on duty but in plainclothes for the Palm Beach Gardens police and driving an unmarked white van but he had never identified himself, according to an audio recording played at his trial.
He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap because he was investigating auto burglaries. His sergeant testified at a hearing that he told Raja to wear a vest marked "police" if he confronted anyone, but the vest was found inside the unmarked van.
Raja shot him repeatedly. A medical examiner testified that Jones was killed by a shot through his heart. The musician, who also worked as a housing inspector, was also shot once in each arm.
Raja was fired less than a month after the shooting, and he was charged in 2016.
Raja's attorneys argued during his trial this year that he should be protected under the stand your ground law, which says anyone with a legitimate fear of imminent danger can use lethal force.
They also asked the judge to throw out the verdicts on the basis that Raja should never have been convicted under the stand your ground law protections. The judge denied the motion.
Jones' family left the courthouse after Raja's sentence singing "Victory is Mine," a gospel song commonly sung in black churches to rejoice or proclaim faith in eventual triumph over deep adversity.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is on the legal team representing Jones' family, said Thursday that the case offered something rare for communities of color.
"With the sentencing today, it's a footnote in American jurisprudence but based on the fact that this is the first time in over 30 years that a police officer has been convicted for killing a black person in the state of Florida. It is a milestone for many black Americans," Crump said. "Not only in Florida, but all across the United States."
Raja's attorneys did not make a statement after the sentencing.