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"Hoodlums" 911 caller convicted in murder of unarmed black man

RALEIGH, N.C. — A white man who fatally shot an unarmed black man after calling 911 and reporting "hoodlums" has been found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

News outlets report that the jury spent less than two hours deliberating Thursday before finding Chad Copley guilty of premeditated murder in the death of 20-year-old Kouren-Rodney Thomas, who was attending a party near Copley's home.

Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas WNCN

Prosecutors had said Copley appeared bent on violence when he told 911 operators he was "locked and loaded" to confront people he described as armed "hoodlums."

CBS affiliate WNCN reports that Copley told the operator: "We got a bunch of hoodlums out here racing. I am locked and loaded and I am going outside to secure my neighborhood. You need to send PD as quickly as possible. I am going to secure my neighborhood. I am on the neighborhood watch. I am going to have my neighbors with me."

About seven minutes after that call, Copley called 911 again: "We have a house…we have a lot of people outside of our house yelling and shouting obscenities. I yelled at them 'please leave the premises.' They were showing firearms, so I fired a warning shot and we got someone that got hit," he said.

Defense attorneys acknowledged Copley fired the fatal shotgun blast, but said he feared for his safety and was covered by the state's Castle doctrine.

On cross examination, Copley admitted escalating the situation and lying to the 911 operator about several things, including that he was on the neighborhood watch, that people were "racing up and down the street" and vandalizing the neighborhood, and that the shot he fired was a warning shot, reports WNCN. 

Superior Court Judge Michael J. O'Foghludha sentenced Chad Copley on Friday after hearing from Thomas' mother.

"Not a day goes by, or an hour, or a minute, that I don't miss him," said his mother, Simone Butler-Thomas, holding an urn of his ashes in court. "This is all I have left of him. This is Kouren's urn that holds his ashes."

Copley declined to address the judge, but his attorney Raymond Tarlton said the defense team would appeal his conviction to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Copley's family declined to speak to reporters after the hearing.

Thomas, who was known for reminding friends to buckle seatbelts, had arrived at the party with two other people but they decided to leave because it seemed boring, friends testified. Thomas had been startled to see flashing lights at a traffic stop down the street and began to jog toward his friend's car because he was afraid police would break up the party, his friend David Walker testified. Thomas was shot at the edge of Copley's yard.

A friend of the victim's family, Nikia Pratt, told the judge that the outcome of the case is sad for all sides.

"No one wanted this situation. Everybody still loses, in a way," she said. "We can't bring back Kouren. We can't bring Mr. Copley back to his family."

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