Michael Hetle, a former police officer who subsequently became a NASA executive, was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of his Black neighbor.
Hetle, who is white, had been feuding with Javon Prather, 24, for years, according to reports. When he complained about loud noise and dog droppings coming from Prather’s next-door home in Springfield, Virginia, the former cop — who killed two people in the line of duty — claimed authorities did little to help.
A jury found the 54-year-old Virginia man guilty of shooting the Maryland National Guardsman seven times in March 2020 on Thursday, Oct. 14.
The moments when Hetle’s front door opened and he began firing at Prather, who was standing on Hetle’s porch, were filmed on his Ring doorbell video.
Hetle walks outside and fires his weapon, shooting and killing Prather, as seen in the video. In the space of six seconds, seven shots were fired, four at point-blank range and two in the back as the young man collapsed down a flight of stairs.
As Prather lay on the driveway, Hetle fired his final shot.
Several witnesses were present, including Prather’s wife. Hetle was said to have raged at her as she tried to figure out what had led to her husband’s death.
Prather was seen in a video driving by Hetle’s house six months before the incident, yelling at him. During the trial, Hetle’s lawyers claimed that the man shot Prather in self-defense because he thought he had a gun.
However, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano of Fairfax County contended that it was “not self-defense,” but rather “murder in the first degree,” meaning “murder with malice and premeditation.”
The video footage from the home security system, according to Descano, was vital in Hetle’s conviction.
“I think being able to show the jury what transpired and the manner and the seven shots really brought home to the jurors the malice of achieving this first-degree murder conviction,” he added.
“Mr. Prather served in the Maryland National Guard and had a bright future ahead of him,” he later added. Today, he should be spending time with his family and community. While our decision will not bring him back to his loved ones, my heart and thoughts are with the Prathers, and I hope that this conviction provides them some relief.”
Hetle was also found guilty of employing a weapon in the conduct of a felony, and when he is sentenced early next year, he could face up to life in prison.