RALEIGH, N.C. – A white homeowner who shot and killed an unarmed black man after reporting "hoodlums" in his neighborhood was sentenced Friday to life in prison after the victim's mother tearfully told the judge she has struggled since her son's death.
Superior Court Judge Michael O'Foghludha sentenced Chad Copley to life without parole a day after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder for the August 2016 shooting.
The racial overtones of the shooting were stoked soon after it happened by the release of 911 tapes in which Copley complains of "hoodlums" outside his Raleigh house and tells the dispatcher: "I am locked and loaded. I'm going outside to secure my neighborhood."
Copley, 40, testified during his trial that he would refer to his own son as a "hoodlum" and that he feared for his family's safety after seeing men display guns while leaving a nearby party. However, prosecutors undermined his self-defense claims by making him admit under cross-examination that he lied to investigators about several aspects of the case, including that he had meant to fire a warning shot.
Twenty-year-old Kouren Thomas was leaving a nearby house party when he was hit by the fatal shotgun blast Copley fired from inside his garage. Witnesses said Thomas had no gun, and prosecutors said none was found where he fell to the ground.
"Not a day goes by, or an hour, or a minute, that I don't miss him," said his mother, Simone Butler-Thomas, holding an urn of his ashes in court. "This is all I have left of him. This is Kouren's urn that holds his ashes."
Copley declined to address the judge, but his attorney Raymond Tarlton said the defense team would appeal his conviction to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Copley's family declined to speak to reporters after the hearing.
Thomas, who was known for reminding friends to buckle seatbelts, had arrived at the party with two other people but they decided to leave because it seemed boring, the friends testified. Thomas had been startled to see flashing lights at a traffic stop down the street and began to jog toward his friend's car because he was afraid police would break up the party, his friend David Walker testified. Thomas was shot at the edge of Copley's yard.
A friend of the victim's family, Nikia Pratt, told the judge that the outcome of the case is sad for all sides.
"No one wanted this situation. Everybody still loses, in a way," she said. "We can't bring back Kouren. We can't bring Mr. Copley back to his family."
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