AP NEWS

Life sentence thrown out for Raleigh man convicted of killing man outside his home

May 7, 2019

The state Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a Raleigh man accused of killing a man outside his home in 2016 and granted him a new trial.

In 2018, jurors found Chad Cameron Copley, 40, guilty of first-degree murder in the Aug. 7, 2016, death of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas.

Copley was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

According to a ruling by Judges John Tyson and Donna Stroud released Tuesday, the prosecutor’s argument during the trial that “Copley shot Thomas because he was black” is not supported by any evidence and is “wholly gratuitous and inflammatory.”

The order went on to read that “the prosecutor’s argument was an improper and prejudicial appeal to race and the jurors’ ‘sense of passion and prejudice.’”

Judge John Arrowood disagreed, saying the prosecutors comments “not an appeal to racial animosity.”

“Instead, the comments argued it would be unreasonable to be afraid of the group outside the house because of race, and that race could have been a factor considered by defendant,” Arrowood wrote.

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.

In court last year, Thomas’ mother, Simone Thomas, said 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.”