RALEIGH, N.C. – An unarmed black man shot by a white homeowner who complained about "hoodlums" in his neighborhood was killed on a rare night when he decided to go to a house party instead of staying home to play video games, the victim's friends testified Thursday.
Their testimony followed opening statements in the murder trial of Chad Copley, who fired a shotgun blast from inside his Raleigh, North Carolina, garage and killed 20-year-old Kouren Thomas in August 2016.
Prosecutors argued in opening statements that Copley appeared bent on violence when he called 911 to say he was "locked and loaded" to confront what he described as armed "hoodlums" outside his house.
Defense attorneys countered that Copley, 40, was concerned about the safety of his wife and children after two people leaving a nearby house party showed him their guns. Copley faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
A friend of the victim, David Walker, testified that they had arrived at the house party a couple of doors down from Copley's home to find "that it was basically boring." Walker also said he saw no one with weapons, nor anyone fighting.
They were making plans to leave when Thomas, spooked by a police cruiser at a nearby traffic stop, began jogging back toward Walker's car. It was then that Thomas was hit by the shotgun blast from Copley near the man's mailbox at the edge of the yard, Walker testified.
"He spun around after getting shot and told everybody to call 911," Walker said, describing his friend. "He just started screaming: 'Help! Call 911."
Walker then ran to alert the officer involved in the unrelated traffic stop.
Walker testified that Thomas, known for reminding everyone to fasten their seatbelts in the car, usually preferred to stay in and play video games. Walker said that the night Thomas was killed was the only time he could recall his friend going to a house party.
The victim's mother sobbed quietly in the first row of the courtroom as Walker spoke, and a sheriff's deputy handed her a box of tissues.
Another friend who went to the party with them, Chris Malone, said he ran to Thomas as he lay bleeding in the grass of Copley's yard and tried to comfort him.
Malone testified he "just tried to keep him up; let him know I was there." Malone said he told Thomas to "try to keep fighting, keep breathing."
Defense attorney Brad Polk told the racially diverse jury that Copley had seen weapons displayed by two people who apparently left the party before Thomas. One brandished a gun in Copley's yard, Polk said.
Polk, who acknowledged his client fired the fatal shot, said his client will testify about why he feared for his safety.
"Wait until Mr. Copley tells you himself what happened," he said.
Prosecutor Patrick Latour said it's Copley's own words, captured on a 911 call before the shooting, that show he was taking matters into his own hands instead of waiting for police. The shooting happened in Copley's subdivision of two-story homes in the northeastern stretches of Raleigh.
Recordings of the calls made headlines when they were released days after the 2016 shooting.
"We've got a bunch of hoodlums out here racing," Copley tells the dispatcher. "I am locked and loaded. I'm going outside to secure my neighborhood."
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