Homeowner gets life sentence in murder of partygoer

A Raleigh homeowner will serve a life sentence behind bars for the murder of a man who was shot while attending a neighborhood party.

Judge Michael O’Foghludha sentenced Chad Copley to life in prison without parole Friday morning in a seventh-floor courtroom in the Wake County Courthouse.

Copley, 40, was convicted the day before of first-degree murder for the 2016 shooting of Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas. Copley had called 911 the night of the shooting and 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.”

Copley had claimed during the trial that he acted in self-defense because Thomas aimed a gun at his home. His lawyers argued that under the state’s “castle doctrine,” Copley had a right to use defensive force to protect his home and family. But a jury didn’t buy that account.

Days after the shooting, Justin Bamberg, a South Carolina legislator and lawyer representing the Thomas family, described Copley as “George Zimmerman 2.0.” Zimmerman was a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman who was charged with killing Trayvon Martin during an altercation in Florida in 2012. Zimmerman was later exonerated.

In a marked departure from the suits, sweater vest, necktie and horn-rimmed glasses Copley wore each day during the trial, he walked into the courtroom Friday morning wearing an orange-and-white-striped jail jumpsuit.

“No sir,” he replied when the judge asked him if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced.

Copley’s lawyer, Raymond Tarlton, told the judge that he understood a conviction of first-degree murder carried a mandatory life sentence, but he pointed out that the convicted murderer’s wife, parents and friends were in the courtroom.

“He has wide support in the community,” Tarlton said.

Muynir Simone Butler-Thomas, the mother of the shooting victim, told the courtroom that she was dressed in pink because it was “Happy Pink Friday.”

“Pink was his favorite color,” she said about her son. “It’s been hard on my family because my son was such a wonderful child. He loved everybody. He had the biggest smile. Words can’t explain how wonderful he was.”

Butler-Thomas, who was dressed in a pink-knit hat atop a pink wig and flowery pink jacket, said her son only had four friends, two who were with him the night he was gunned down.

“They still can’t get it together,” she said.

She thanked the community, including the McDonald’s where her son worked, for helping with his burial expenses. Soon after the shooting, the fast-food restaurant held a “Kouren-Rodney Thomas Day” and donated part of the day’s proceeds to his family.

Butler-Thomas clutched a teddy bear outfitted in a pink T-shirt and pink sneakers that held an urn filled with her son’s ashes.

“This is all I have left of him,” she said.

Butler-Thomas said her son was far from being a hoodlum and that he and his friends described themselves as “gentlemen and scholars.”

Nikia Pratt, a family friend who described herself as the shooting victim’s “aunt at heart” told the court that “losing my father was not as traumatic as losing Kourey.”

“He was a young man who wanted to open a transitional house for teen children to get them off the streets, because he loved people.”

O’Foghludha appointed the appellate defender’s office to prepare Copley’s appeal.

Two bailiffs led him out of the courtroom to begin life in prison.

His family sat silently during the Friday morning hearing. An older woman among the group broke down in tears outside of the courtroom after it ended.

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald