Former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja will serve 25 years in prison on the charges of manslaughter and attempted murder in the 2015 shooting death of church drummer Corey Jones, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx ruled Thursday.

“From my perspective here on the bench, justice is a process,” Marx said, referring to the conduct of the March trial that found Raja guilty on both counts. “For the sentence in this case, justice is in the eye of the beholder.”

“This has been a heart-breaking case. I think it’s had a profound effect on everybody that sat through this trial.”

Marx sentenced Raja to 25 years on each of the two charges, to be served at the same time.

The sentence practically renders moot Raja's argument on appeal that either the attempted murder or manslaughter charge should be thrown out. Even if appellate court dismisses one of the charges, he will still serve 25 years on the other.

Jones' family came out of the courthouse singing and clapping after Marx pronounced sentence. The family's civil attorney, Benjamin Crump, called the verdict historical, the first sentencing of a police officer in the shooting death of a black man in Florida for 30 years.

Corey Jones’ stepmother, Kattie Jones, said even though Nouman Raja is going to prison, his family can still see him. “Corey will not walk back to us. They can walk to the correction facility,” she said. “They get a victory because Mr. Raja is still living.”

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2:50 p.m. update: The attorneys speak

“Corey Jones did nothing wrong. He did everything right, and still, he lost his life,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis told the court Thursday in the sentencing hearing of former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja.

Raja "had so many options" other than killing Jones, she said. Ellis asked for 30-year sentence on the manslaughter charge and life in prison on the attempted murder charge, the maximum for both.

Decrying the narrative of a white cop killing a black man, Raja’s attorney Richard Lubin said Raja is a minority himself who has faced racism. "One word that should never be in this case is race. This man is not a racist," Lubin said.

He blamed the media for racially charging the case. "They should be ashamed of themselves," Lubin said.

2:25 p.m. update: Raja's wife speaks

Nouman Raja is not a murderer and not a racist, his wife, Karine, told Circuit Judge Joseph Marx Thursday.

"I have so many emotions, but most of it is anger," she said, speaking publicly for the first time since the October 2015 shooting of Corey Jones. "He's a better parent to our children than I'll ever be."

Since he was jailed, Raja has written his famly three letters a day, Karine Raja said, one for her and one for each child. On mornings when home he played "Here comes the Sun," taught his son woodcraft and made paper planes with his son and beauty salon with his daughter.

Raja’s friend Jennifer Carrera told the court: "I pray that people have not been so consumed with anger that they've forgotten about forgiveness."

Carrera said he cares for her two sons like his own, and dedicated his life to serving others. One of Raja's children has special needs. Both have been diagnosed as clinically depressed and have discussed suicide, she said.

2:15 update: Raja's brother speaks

First to testify on behalf of Nouman Raja, the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer convicted of killing Corey Jones, is his brother, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Adnan Raja.

"Race was never an issue for us," Adnan Raja said, saying he and his brother are proud Muslim Americans. "He's been painted as a murderer and a racist, and that's just not right."

He spoke of his brother’s willingness to help others, about how "Someone said he embarrassed his family. No we're not. We're proud of him."

After brief legal arguments, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx reiterated his ruling denying Raja's motion to throw out one of the two charges facing him. "I will say, it is a tricky issue, but I will let the 4th DCA make a determination."

Corey Jones' family speaks

Clinton Jones Sr. still has his son Corey's cell phone number in his phone.

Corey Jones' aunt, Sheila, has a text message from him asking how she was doing.

His niece, Nariyah, has only the memory of the last movie they watched together, "Madagascar," to soothe her from the tears that broke her voice Thursday as she stood before Circuit Judge Joseph Marx.

Corey Jones' relatives took turns telling Marx the profound pain they felt at the loss of the drummer, hoping that Marx will sentence the former police officer who killed him to life in prison.

Nouman Raja, noticeably thinner and with a beard he has grown in the seven weeks he's been in jail since his conviction, sat in silence as they spoke.

Raja faces 25 years to life in prison on one conviction each of manslaughter and attempted murder.

"Since no amount of punishment can bring Corey back, no amount of punishment can be too much," Jones' uncle, Marc Johnson, told Marx.

Hearing's initial moments: arguments from Corey Jones' family

Corey Jones' niece, Nariyah, recalling her response as a 9-year-old to the news that her uncle had been killed by a police officer: "This should have never happened. My uncle should still be here," she said. 

His aunt, Sheila Banks, said he texted her the night before he died. His message: "How are you? I love you." She asked the judge to sentence Raja to life in prison.

His father, Clinton Jones Sr., referred to Jones as "my baby, my son." He said he still has his son's number in his phone. "This has been a painful experience for me and my family," Jones said, adding that the officer who shot his son, Nouman Raja, "has shown no remorse."

His uncle, Marc Johnson, told Circuit Judge Joseph Marx, "Those of us that knew Corey knew that Nouman Raja was guilty all along." He added, asking for a life sentence: "Since no amount of punishment can bring Corey back, no amount of punishment can be too much."

Raja appeared in court sporting a newly grown beard.

ORIGINAL STORY

At a hearing beginning at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, family members of slain drummer Corey Jones likely will ask a Palm Beach County judge to impose a life sentence against the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer who shot and killed Jones in 2015 as the stranded motorist waited for a tow truck.

Circuit Judge Joseph Marx is scheduled to sentence Nouman Raja nearly two months after a jury convicted him of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted murder.

At least one member of Jones’ family asked Marx to sentence Raja to life in prison.

“Just as we trust teachers with our children, doctors with our families, and pastors with our souls, we trusted Nouman Raja to protect and serve the citizens in our community,” Jones’ uncle, Marc Johnson, wrote in a letter to Marx filed this week. Later, he added: “Nouman Raja betrayed us all. He hunted down an innocent man and killed him.”

>>RELATED: Timeline of events in shooting of Corey Jones

Marx also likely will hear pleas for leniency from Raja’s loved ones. Raja’s wife, Karine, attended every day of his trial. Other relatives, including his brother, Adnan, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy, also attended.

Raja told investigators shortly after the Oct. 18, 2015, shooting at PGA Boulevard and Interstate 95 that he was forced to kill Jones because Jones pointed a gun at him. Jones' family has insisted that Jones died never knowing that Raja was a police officer because Raja drove up to him in an unmarked van, approached him in plainclothes and never identified himself as a police officer.

Raja told investigators the opposite: That he introduced himself as a police officer.

An audio recording of their exchange, however, captured as Jones waited on hold for a roadside assistance operator, revealed nothing to indicate that Raja told Jones he was a police officer.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg took the rare step of pursuing charges against Raja in 2016, after a grand jury ruled that Raja was unjustified in shooting Jones, whose body was found more than 40 feet away from his unfired handgun in the grassy area adjacent to the highway’s off-ramp.

Although Marx last week denied Raja’s request for a new trial, Raja’s legal team is expected to appeal both the jury’s verdict and Marx’s sentence to Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal.

Attorneys who have followed the case said last week that Raja’s strongest ground for appeal could be an argument that Raja cannot be sentenced for both manslaughter and attempted murder in a case involving a single death.

But prosecutors have said that the manslaughter charge is tied to Raja’s entire course of conduct during his deadly encounter with Jones, while the attempted murder count applies only to the three shots Raja fired in what they said was a further attempt to pursue and kill Jones after he was already mortally wounded.

The armed manslaughter conviction carries with it a punishment of up to 30 years in prison. The first-degree attempted murder charge is punishable by a mandatory minimum of 25 years and up to life in prison.

Staff writer Hannah Winston contributed to this story.

dduret@pbpost.com

@dd_writes

This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.