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Raleigh homeowner gets life sentence for killing man in front yard

February 23, 2018 GMT

A Raleigh homeowner who killed a man outside his home 18 months ago after complaining of “hoodlums” in his neighborhood was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole.

Jurors deliberated a little over an hour Thursday before finding Chad Cameron Copley, 40, guilty of first-degree murder in the Aug. 7, 2016, death of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas.

Thomas was leaving a house party down the street from Copley’s home on Singleleaf Lane when he was shot.

Copley admitted he fired a shotgun through a window from inside his garage, but he claimed that Thomas was reaching for a gun as he approached Copley’s home and that he was only protecting his family.

No gun was found near Thomas or anywhere in Copley’s yard, and prosecutors said there was no evidence that Thomas was closer to the home than the edge of the yard.

In a 911 call played for jurors, Copley complained about “hoodlums” in his neighborhood racing cars and vandalizing property. He told the dispatcher that he was a member of the neighborhood watch and was “locked and loaded” and planning to “secure the neighborhood.”

But he acknowledged on the witness stand that there were no cars, no vandalism and no neighborhood watch.

Copley also admitted that he fired directly at Thomas and did not, as he had told police after the shooting, merely fire a warning shot.

Thomas’ mother, Simone Thomas, said Friday that she, his two older brothers and his friends are still grieving over his death.

“This has been very hard for my family because my son was such a wonderful child. He loved everybody. He had the biggest smile. Words can’t explain how much a good kid he was,” she told Superior Court Judge Michael O’Foghludha before the sentencing.

“I can’t express the way I feel because I miss him. He was always there for me. He protected me,” Simone Thomas said. “Not a day goes by, an hour, a minute, that I don’t miss him.”

She, family and friends wore pink to court. She said pink was Kouren Thomas’ favorite color, so family and friends have made a habit of wearing it on Fridays to honor him.

“Losing my father wasn’t even as traumatic as losing Kouren,” said Nikia Pratt, a family friend who described herself as an “aunt by heart” to Kouren Thomas. “What was taken from everybody was a great man with great hopes. This is a man who wanted to open a transitional home for teen children to get them off the street because that’s how much he loved people.”

Copley, who was dressed Friday in an orange-striped jail jumpsuit instead of the coat and tie he wore during his week-long trial, declined to comment before O’Foghludha handed down the mandatory life sentence.

His attorneys immediately appealed the verdict and sentence.