A fired Florida police officer was convicted Thursday of manslaughter and attempted murder in the fatal shooting of a stranded black motorist in 2015.
Nouman Raja, 41, faces life in prison for fatally shooting musician Corey Jones, 31, who was waiting for help for his broken down SUV on the side of a South Florida highway when he was killed by Raja.
The four-man, two-woman jury had deliberated for about four hours before delivering the verdict of manslaughter with a firearm and attempted first-degree murder, according to The Associated Press. Raja had no reaction as the verdict was read.
More than two dozen of Jones' family members and supporters, gathered in the courtroom for the conclusion of the trial, which had lasted about a week. One told the AP that "the sweetest sound was the click of those handcuffs" on Raja after he was convicted.
Prosecutors say an audio recording of the shooting indicate Raja — who was on duty but in plainclothes and driving an unmarked white van — had never identified himself.
They said Jones, who was returning home from a performance with drums valued at $10,000 in the back of his SUV, pulled his legally-owned handgun because he feared he was being robbed.
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's attorneys said that he did identify himself and should be protected by Florida's "stand your ground" law because he feared for his life.
In a statement, attorneys for the Jones family said the conviction showed "what can happen when prosecutors have the dedication to charge an on-duty law enforcement officer in the murder of an innocent black man, and what can happen when a thoughtful judge rejects a shameless ploy to use Florida’s questionable Stand Your Ground law as a shield against wrongdoing."
"This verdict is a vindication of the good man that was Corey Jones, and an utter repudiation of a criminal who tried to hide behind a badge," the statement said. "Though the Jones family will miss Corey for the rest of their lives, they can finally start to heal knowing that justice has finally been served.”
"The truth has prevailed," Jones' father, Clint, said during a press conference Thursday.
He said he had come from Corey's gravesite, where he went after the verdict was read to "let him know, Corey, son we did it!"
Attorney Benjamin Crump said the verdict was a "victory for Corey Jones, not just a victory for his family, not just a victory for Palm Beach, but all of America if you believe in equal justice,"
"This is huge victory because a police officer being found guilty for shooting a black man in America is a victory," Crump said, adding that the jury was all-white. "The hope is that one day it won’t be such a landmark."
The press conference, attended not only by Corey's family and their lawyers, but also by teens from a softball team he coached, was closed out by his sister, Melissa, singing "Victory Is Mine."
Melissa, who is eight months pregnant, said she is eager to tell her son about the "greatness" Corey has "done throughout the community" and "how big of a joker his uncle was."
The Palm Beach Gardens officer was fired less than a month after the shooting. He has been on house arrest since he was charged in 2016, and is to be sentenced on April 26.
In a statement, Raja's lawyers said they were "devastated" by the verdict. "We believe in Nouman Raja’s innocence and we will continue to stand behind him as his case is reviewed by the judge and, if necessary, the appellate courts," the statement said.
"This tragedy has impacted everyone from the families to our local community, and beyond. We hope this verdict will allow all of those involved to begin the process of healing," the city of Palm Beach Gardens said in a statement Thursday.
The last time a Florida officer faced trial for an on-duty killing was in 1989. William Lozano was convicted of two manslaughter counts for fatally shooting a black motorcyclist, causing him to crash and kill a passenger. The verdict was later dismissed, and Lozano was acquitted in a 1993 retrial.