A former Florida police officer was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison in the on-duty shooting of a black church musician who was stranded on the side of a road after his car broke down.
Former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja was convicted in March of manslaughter and attempted murder in the 2015 killing of Corey Jones.
Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx imposed a 25-year sentence on both counts Raja was convicted of, ruling the fired police officer will serve the sentences concurrently.
Prosecutors and Jones' family had asked for the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Raja, 41, is the first Florida police officer in 30 years to receive a prison sentence for a line-of-duty shooting.
Before sentencing Raja, Marx said he had a "heavy, heavy, heavy burden" to mete out justice in what "has been a heartbreaking case" for both Jones' and Rajas' families.
Following the sentencing, Jones' family sang the gospel hymn "Victory is Mine" outside the courthouse in Palm Beach to honor Jones, 31, who was a drummer in his local church and a member of a band called Future Presidents.
"We are here to let you know that today is a victory for our family, but at the same time we are still suffering. We're still hurting because we don't have Corey here with us," Jones' father, Clinton Jones, Sr., told reporters.
While race became an issue during the trial of Raja, a Muslim-American, Clinton Jones said, "This is not a race thing."
"All lives matter regardless of what color you are and that's what our motto was from the beginning," he said. "We knew what the truth was and we stuck by that because of the son that we had raised and we know the type of character that he had."
But the Jones' family attorney, Benjamin Crump, described the conviction and sentencing of Raja as a "milestone for many black Americans" who have lost loved ones in police shootings only to see the officers responsible for the deaths not face charges.
"Today we can tell many of those families that there is hope. There is hope for America because a jury in Palm Beach, Florida, looked at all the evidence and they said a black man killed by the police can get equal justice, can get fair administration of the law," Crump said.
“”Good cops are heroes. Nouman Raja is a criminal.
Raja did not speak at the sentencing, but his wife of more than 16 years and the mother of his two young children asked Marx's to show her husband mercy.
"He is the epitome of a patriot," Karine Raja said. "He believed in the system. He believed in the prevalence of the law over emotions, facts over presumptions. He never lost faith."
Adnan Raja, a deputy sheriff in Palm Beach County, also spoke in court on behalf of his brother. He calling the prosecution of his younger sibling "political."
"Someone said that he embarrassed his family," Adnan Raja said. "No, he didn't. We're proud of him."
But Jones' relatives told Marx that Raja has never shown any remorse for shooting Jones. They asked that the maximum sentence be imposed.
"Some would ask that you extend him the respect and courtesy earned by the brave men and women who wear the badge of law enforcement. Good cops are heroes. Nouman Raja is a criminal," Jones' uncle, Mark Johnson, told Marx in a victim impact statement before sentencing.
On Oct. 18, 2015, Jones was stranded with car troubles on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach Gardens about 3:15 a.m. when Raja pulled up in an unmarked car to investigate what he believed to be an abandoned vehicle.
Jones was on his cell phone ordering a tow truck when Raja approached his car.
Jones, who had a concealed weapons permit, drew his .380-caliber handgun and attempted to run as Raja, who was dressed in plain clothes, opened fire six times on Jones, killing him.
“”We are here to let you know that today is a victory for our family, but at the same time we are still suffering. We're still hurting because we don't have Corey here with us.
Jones' gun was found about 125 feet from his body; it had not been fired.
Raja, who told investigators that he identified himself as a police officer, declined to testify during the trial.
During the trial, prosecutors said Raja never identified himself as a police officer. He acted so aggressively, they surmised, that Jones must have believed he was being carjacked.
An audio recording of Jones' phone conversation with the tow truck dispatch center was played for the jury. It captured part of the confrontation between Jones and Raja, but Raja cannot be heard identifying himself as a police officer.
“Corey Jones did nothing wrong. He did everything right, and still, he lost his life,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis said at Thursday's sentencing hearing.