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The shotgun round that killed a Raleigh 20-year-old was ‘better at killing people’

The 12-gauge shotgun shell that killed 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas contained a slug along with pellets – a round that is “better at killing people,” according to testimony Friday.

The murder case against Chad Cameron Copley entered its second day with testimony from Raleigh police Detective Eric Emser. Copley, a Northeast Raleigh father of two, has acknowledged firing the fatal shot after calling 911 about a “bunch of hoodlums.”

Emser described finding a shell and a broken window inside Copley’s garage on Singleleaf Lane, which he described as a cluttered “man cave” with a sofa and a collection of beer bottles. The window had shattered glass on the driveway outside the garage, he said, suggesting a shot had been fired through it. The Winchester shell included a slug meant for self-defense and hunting large game.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour asked if the slug was “better at killing people” and Emser agreed from the stand. Later Friday, Latour concluded the state’s evidence, clearing the way for Copley to take the stand and testify in his own defense likely sometime next week.

The case of the 2016 shooting has drawn comparisons to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and raised questions about how far a homeowner can go to protect his property from what he perceives to be a threat. It also has raised questions about Copley’s state of mind at the time of the shooting and whether the killing was premeditated because of the comments recorded at the beginning of the 911 call.

On Thursday, testimony described Copley calling emergency dispatchers to let them know he was “locked and loaded” and on his way to “secure” his neighborhood from what he alleged were a “bunch of hoodlums.”

At the very beginning of a 911 tape, Latour told jurors Thursday, is a section recorded before dispatchers come on the line. “What it records Chad saying,” Latour said Thursday, “is ‘I’m going to kill ‘em.’ 

On Friday, an agent with the City-County Bureau of Investigation said she found a large pool of blood near the Copleys’ mailbox at the curb. The distance from the front door of the house to the street measured 50 feet, Carla Foran said.

Emser said he arrived at the house on Singleleaf Lane and found a Mossberg shotgun propped against a wall in a hallway downstairs. It still had about four rounds inside. Upstairs, he testified, he found a rifle leaning against the wall in another hallway. The screen from a second-story window was out and laying in the yard. Emser said he found no sign of forced entry at the house.

He testified that after the shooting, he interviewed Jace Williams – one of the people who organized the party. Williams told him that the party had been announced on social media, and that roughly 20 people were there after it started around 10 p.m. But later, roughly 40 more people arrived whom he did not know.

Williams said he thought the unknown party-goers might have been in a gang, but he saw no weapons and did not know for certain, Emser said. They were drinking much of the party’s alcohol, and they departed without incident after being asked to leave, he said.

“Was he ever able to tell you that gang members were there?” Latour asked.

“To me, it appeared more speculation,” Emser said.

Testimony continues Monday.

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