WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Selection for jury members has begun, as the murder trial for former Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja approaches.
Raja is accused of fatally shooting Corey Jones, a man who was waiting for roadside assistance after his car broke down on Oct. 18, 2015.
He appeared in court on Thursday morning, pleading not guilty to two felony counts of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder.
Lawyers began the process of screening two groups of 100 potential jurors for the case, which will have six jurors and four alternates.
Dressed in a suit, Raja sat and listened as potential jury members said whether they would be able to be impartial.
“I’d be more than happy to serve,” said a man as the defendant looked on.
Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, asked potential jurors about their exposure to the case, which has been extensively covered in the media.
“What do you remember hearing or reading about the case?” he asked a potential male juror.
“The officer, I remember, being relatively new at his job, and I remember it causing some racial tensions,” replied the potential juror.
Investigators said Jones, a drummer, was driving home from a gig when his Hyundai broke down on the side of the road of Interstate 95, at around 3 a.m.
Authorities said he was on the phone with roadside assistance when Raja, in an unmarked van and regular clothes, walked up to Jones. Prosecutors said Raja never identified himself as a police officer.
The roadside assistance call captured the interaction between the two.
Corey Jones: “Yeah, I’m good.”
Nouman Raja: “Really?”
Corey Jones: “Yeah.”
Nouman Raja: “Get your (expletive) hands up! Get your (expletive) hands up!”
The recording then captured the sound of gunshots.
Jones was said to be armed at the time but never fired his gun as, prosecutors said, Raja emptied his chamber while running away.
A potential juror expressed her opinion about the incident.
“He was shot, and I think he died, and I think it’s wrong,” she said.
The first-degree murder charge Raja faces is due to him allegedly shooting Jones twice as he tried to run away.
Judge Joseph Marx of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court read potential jurors the facts.
“The defendant, Nouman Raja, was a police officer with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department when he shot Corey Jones. The shooting occurred at Palm Beach Gardens during the pre-dawn hours in the vicinity of I-95 southbound off-ramp connecting to PGA Boulevard, next to the DoubleTree Hotel,” said Marx. “There are recordings of various aspects of this case. The defendant Raja is charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence while armed and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm.”
Marx asked potential jurors whether they could help ensure Nouman receives a fair trial.
“Could you listen to the evidence and follow my instructions to presume that you’re to presume Mr. Raja innocent and follow the law? Could you do that?” he asked a potential female juror.
“Yes,” she replied.
If found guilty on the manslaughter charge, Raja could face up to 30 years, while the first-degree murder charge carries a life sentence.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.
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