Update (May 8, 2019): An appeals court in North Carolina has decided that previously convicted inmate Chad Copley deserves a new trial. Copley's legal team was awarded a second chance after they successfully put forth an argument that race was used during the trial when they believe it wasn't a factor in the crime that was committed. He is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of first degree murder last year.In their most recent decision, judges ruled that "the argument that (Copley) shot Thomas because he was black is not supported by any...evidence and is wholly gratuitous and inflammatory."
Copley shot and killed 22-year-old Kouren Rodney-Thomas in 2016 after calling 911 and telling the operator, “we got a bunch of hoodlums out here racing. I am locked and loaded. I'm going outside to secure my neighborhood."
Rodney-Thomas did not have a firearm on him, despite what Copley claimed. Two of the appeals court judges said it was unfair of prosecutors to bring up race at all in Copley’s trial. This statement confused Rodney-Thomas’s mother and other lawyers."Every day this man is with me because he took my son," Simone Butler-Thomas told CBS News' Mola Lenghi.
"I just thought that it was over. That, you know, my son can finally rest in peace … I will never have closure. I will never have closure."Justin Bamberg, the lawyer representing Butler-Thomas, said, "The jury did not convict Chad Copley because a prosecutor injected race into the case. They convicted Chad Copley because of how egregious his actions were."
The state is allowed to appeal the decision because one of the judges dissented, but prosecutors are still weighing their options.The case gained notoriety because of its similarities to the murder of Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Similar to George Zimmerman, Copley said he was part of the neighborhood watch. However, his neighbors have since refuted.
Prosecutors won the initial case because Copley repeatedly lied under oath. The defendant reportedly lied about firing warning shots and firing in self defense. Prosecutors proved each of those claims to be untrue during the original trial. Furthermore, he openly told the 911 operator, "I'm going to kill 'em.""He wasn't a hoodlum, he wasn't a bad kid, he was a good kid," Butler-Thomas told the News & Observer after the first trial.
"This is all we have of him left. Maybe he can rest now, knowing his name was cleared and he didn't deserve to die on a curb."
Original: A North Carolina homeowner was recently found guilty of first-degree murder for shooting an unarmed black man in August 2016, the NY Daily News reports. Chad Copley was sentenced to life in prison on Friday.
Back in August, Copley reported "hoodlums" in his neighborhood, according to released 911 tapes. "I am locked and loaded. I'm going outside to secure my neighborhood," Copley could be heard saying on the call.
Before talking with the dispatcher, Copley was also heard saying "I’m going to kill 'em," according to News & Observer.
Copley fatally shot 24-year-old Kouren-Rodney Thomas from inside of his garage. Thomas was on his way home from a party and did not have a gun on his person, according to his friends' testimonies.
Copley reported to the 911 dispatcher that he was on the "neighborhood watch," of which his fellow neighborhood residents denied. A lawyer from Thomas' attorney team described Copley as "George Zimmerman 2.0" in reference to Zimmerman's similar vigilante actions that resulted in the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin back in 2012.
Defense lawyer Raymond Tarlton claimed police "vaulted over the investigation and the search for the truth" thanks to the heightened attention after the 911 call was released. However, prosecutors discredited Copley's self-defense claims during a cross-examination, where Copley admitted to lying about firing a warning shot.
"[Thomas] wasn't a hoodlum, he wasn't a bad kid, he was a good kid," said the late 24-year-old's mother, Helen Simone Butler-Thomas, following the announced verdict. "This is all we have of him left. Maybe he can rest now, knowing his name was cleared and he didn't deserve to die on a curb."