March 7 (UPI) -- A jury on Thursday convicted former Florida police officer Nouman Raja on charges of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of a black motorist.
Raja, 41, became the first Florida police officer to be convicted in an on-duty shooting in 30 years. The jury deliberated for five hours before returning the guilty verdicts.
Raja was undercover for the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department when he confronted stranded motorist Corey Jones, whose van had broken down on the side of Interstate 95 in October 2015. During the ordeal, a concerned Jones pulled his legally-registered gun and was shot by Raja. An investigation determined Jones didn't fire the weapon and had run away from Raja when he was shot.
Prosecutors said Raja, dressed in plain clothes, failed to identify himself as a police officer and there would have been no way for Jones to know who he was. Concerned Raja was a potential robber, Jones withdrew his gun, prosecutors argued.
Defense attorneys argued Raja, who was subsequently fired from the police department, shot Jones in self-defense and should've been covered by the state's "Stand Your Ground" law -- which allows persons who fear for their safety to shoot an aggressor. The law received great attention following the deadly shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012.
"I just thank God that the truth caught up with him," Clinton Jones Sr. told the Palm Beach Post after the verdict. "It was a long process, but we endured and today we have justice."
Raja had been told by superiors to wear a tactical vest with police markings and his police radio while on assignment, but Raja wore neither when he approached Jones.
Raja faces a prison term of 25 years to life in prison when he's sentenced next month.
Thursday's conviction differs from most other recent police-involved shootings in the United States. In nearly all other high-profile cases -- like the shooting of Stephon Clark in California and Michael Brown in Missouri -- officers have either been acquitted or prosecutors declined to file charges.
"It sends a message to Florida," Pastor J.R. Thicklin, head of the Palm Beach County Clergy Alliance, said of concerns in the black community. "This will be somewhat of confidence restoration in the belief that the system can be fair and unbiased."