Chad Copley told a jury Tuesday that the man he fatally shot 18 months ago aimed a gun at him first, and that he didn’t tell detectives that detail at the time.
Copley, a married father of three children, is on trial for first-degree murder in the shooting death of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas in northeast Raleigh on Aug. 7, 2016. Copley testified in his own defense on Tuesday in the trial that has been compared to the Trayvon Martin case.
Copley, 40, was inside the locked garage of his home on Singleleaf Lane just after 1 a.m. that day when he fired a shotgun through a window and struck Thomas in the right arm. Defense attorneys have said Copley was defending his home and his family during a rowdy party in the neighborhood.
Clad in black-rimmed glasses and a pink necktie that showed beneath his sweater, Copley said Tuesday that he had a fight with his wife that day and was also upset because he had intimacy problems with her that night.
Copley said he saw several people gathered around two cars and a van in front of his house and became more agitated. The men were “yelling and screaming back and forth,” Copley said, and he heard “sounds like they’re revving their engines.”
From a window in his home, Copley yelled at the men to be quiet, he said. They yelled back at him, he said, and one brandished a handgun and “aimed it in my direction.”
Two others lifted their shirts to “flash guns” jammed in their waistbands, Copley said.
He said he retrieved a Mossburg shotgun from under his bed, loaded it with the shells he kept on his nightstand and told his wife he was going outside.
Copley then called 911 and can be heard saying “I’m a kill ’em” before the dispatcher came on the line. Copley said the comment was about his son, who he suspected was “outside raising hell.”
Copley said he told the young men standing in front of his house to get off his property.
“I started yelling, ‘Leave the premises. I have a firearm, Raleigh PD is on the way,’ ” he said.
Several men, including Thomas, had guns and “took off running toward the tree line,” according to Copley. Thomas inexplicably turned around and ran toward Copley’s home while pulling a handgun out of his waistband, Copley said. That’s when Copley fired his gun.
“I didn’t think I killed him,” he said. “I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I fired a warning shot first. I take responsibility for my actions.”
Copley said Thomas managed to throw the gun he was carrying out into the street before he crumpled to the ground at the edge of Copley’s front yard.
Copley said he regretted what happened.
“I should have listened to my wife,” he said before breaking down in tears. “She told me not to go out there and don’t make a big deal of it.”
The case 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. There are also questions about Copley’s state of mind at the time of the shooting and whether the killing was premeditated. In the 911 call, he told a dispatcher that he was “locked and loaded” and on his way to “secure” his neighborhood from what he called a “bunch of hoodlums.”
Pathologists did not find evidence of drugs or alcohol in Thomas’ blood or urine, according to toxicology tests performd by the state medical examiner.
Wake County prosecutor Patrick Latour appeared incredulous in the face of Copley’s assertions that he fired in self-defense. Police have said that Thomas was unarmed, and Latour on Tuesday said the victim was struck by a shotgun shell that entered and exited his right arm before entering his side and slashing across his abdomen. He wondered how the wounded man was able throw a gun into the street.
Investigators this week have said the only firearms found immediately after the shooting were in Copley’s home. The police did find a handgun inside of a parked car. A man who testified Monday on behalf of the defense, Justice Tochokwu Evuka, 22, was eventually charged with a weapons violation for the handgun.
“You never told the detectives that anyone had a gun or was making a motion for a gun, but now you’re in court and the story’s different?” Latour asked Copley.
“Yes sir,” Copley replied.
“And now you want us to believe you today?” Latour asked.
“That would be nice,” Copley replied.
Raleigh police detective Jeff Stroud said Copley never told him about anyone who pointed a gun at him the night of the shooting. Stroud said he heard it for the first time Tuesday during Copley’s testimony.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday.
Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald