Did Chad Copley shoot Kouren-Rodney Thomas in self-defense while protecting his home and family from an armed man? Or did he stay in the darkened garage of his home like a sniper who “waited, watched and ambushed” an unsuspecting neighborhood visitor?
A jury will have to decide what really happened on Aug. 7, 2016, on Singleleaf Lane in northeast Raleigh. Copley, 40, who is on trial and charged with first-degree murder, says Thomas grabbed a gun from his waistband and aimed it at Copley’s home. Prosecutors say Copley had no reason to fire at Thomas, who didn't have a gun and never expected to be shot while leaving a party two doors down.
A Wake County Superior Court judge said jurors could consider self-defense as they decides the fate of Copley, but only if they determine the shooting was pre-meditated and deliberate.
If they believe Copley was lying in wait, “self-defense would have no part in that,” judge Michael O’Foghludha said.
Copley was inside the locked garage of his home just after 1 a.m. that day when he fired a shotgun through a window and struck Thomas, a 20-year-old fast-food employee, in the right arm.
Raymond Tarlton, an attorney for Copley, argued for inclusion of the Castle doctrine, a state law which grants the right to use defensive force to protect your home from unlawful and forced entry.
O’Foghludha said prosecutors would have to disprove that Thomas intended to force his way into Copley’s home, and the law would not apply if the state could prove that Copley provoked the use of force.
In a 911 call, Copley 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.” He can be heard saying “I’m a kill ’em” before the dispatcher came on the line.
O’Foghludha was skeptical of the assertion that Copley fired in self-defense if he was waiting in his garage with a loaded shotgun.
“You do know there’s no self-defense to lying in wait?” O’Foghludha asked Tarlton.
“I do,” Tarlton replied.
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.
Patrick Latour, a prosecutor, asked the judge to consider adding the contradictory statements Copley made to police part of the instructions to the jury. Latour pointed out that Copley admitted on the witness stand Tuesday that he gave false statements to the police.
Tarlton argued that Copley became concerned for his home and family minutes before the shooting when he looked out of his bedroom window and saw several people gathered around two cars and a van in front of his house. The men were “yelling and screaming back and forth,” Copley told the jury Tuesday, adding that he heard “sounds like they’re revving their engines.”
Copley said he opened his bedroom window and yelled at the men to be quiet. 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 grabbed a shotgun from under bed and went to the garage.
Several men, including Thomas, “took off running toward the tree line” after Copley told them to leave his property, he told the jury. 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 and mortally wounded Thomas.
Witnesses testified that Thomas was running because he thought police at a nearby traffic stop were coming to break up the party.
Copley, in the 911 recording, told a dispatcher that he fired a “warning shot,” but he told the jury Tuesday that he aimed for Thomas’s chest before pulling the trigger.
O’Foghludha said the jury could find Copley guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.