Chad Copley, a 40-year-old white man from North Carolina, was found guilty on Thursday afternoon in connection with the fatal shooting of Kouren-Rodney Thomas, 20, an unarmed black man, in 2016.
The jury unanimously found him guilty of first-degree murder by premeditation and by lying in wait. As the verdict was read, Thomas’s mother wiped away tears. She was consoled by loved ones who were seated nearby. It marked the end of the two-week trial.
During Copley’s sentencing on Friday morning, the grieving mom took the stand to give emotional testimony about her dead son. She clung to a teddy bear in a pink shirt, an urn containing some of her son’s ashes, as she cried, telling the courtroom that her son was always there for her.
“He protected me,” Helen Simone Butler-Thomas said. “He came with me to doctor’s appointments. [...] Everyday he would call to make made sure I got home.”
She thanked the community for helping with her son’s burial. Helen also said that all the employees at McDonald's, where Kouren-Rodney worked, wore pink for a day in his memory.
“I got a lot of community support from this but it doesn’t help because I still miss him,” she said, tearfully and clutching to her son’s ashes. “This is all I have left of him.”
The judge sentenced Copley to life in prison without parole.
On Wednesday, Copley took the stand himself, where he apologized for killing the young man.
He testified that he thought he was defending his family when he fired at a group of men standing near his home’s garage, where Copley’s son lived. However, before opening fire, Copley called 911 to report a group of "hoodlums."
Copley admitted to lying about the men’s behavior prior to the shooting — he actually confessed to lying to police nearly 12 times. The lies include a false account that Copley fired a warning shot before fatally killing Thomas and to accusing Kouren-Rodney and his friends of racing cars and causing vandalism, all of which never happened.
"The reason I lied to the police was because I was scared. I was being a coward," Copley said.
Justin Bamberg, a lawyer for Thomas' family, called Copley "George Zimmerman 2.0." not long after the deadly shooting.
[Photo: Wake County Sheriff's Office]