Lawyers for Michael Hetle have said he stood at his front door in Virginia and fired in self-defense after months of threats — Fairfax County prosecutors convinced a jury Hetle executed his 24-year-old neighbor, Javon Prather.
Hetle and Prather had simmering disputes since 2016, with Hetle repeatedly complaining and calling police about barking dogs and loud music.
On Friday, Hetle was sentenced to a life sentence on first degree murder. Prosecutors had asked a circuit court judge to sentence Hetle, a former NASA executive, to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano said: “While this outcome won’t bring Javon back, I hope the Prather Family takes some degree of comfort in the fact that Mr. Hetle received a sentence commensurate with the seriousness of the crime he committed. Violence — particularly violence motivated by a disregard for a specific community — has no place in Fairfax County.”
Hetle was convicted of first-degree murder in October of last year, in a shooting that was captured on a Ring doorbell camera.
“The video from the defendant’s front porch showed jurors what it actually looked like when the defendant opened fire on Javon,” wrote assistant commonwealth’s attorneys Joseph Martin and Lyle Burnham, in their sentencing memo.
The video was played several times at trial, showing Prather walking from his townhome to Hetle’s front door. When Hetle opened the front door, he began firing.
“The jurors were able to see the shock on Javon’s face. They saw Javon run for his life. They saw the defendant go after Javon and continue to fire. They saw Javon crumple to the ground as a bullet struck his spine. They saw the defendant take aim at Javon on the ground and fire one more round into Javon’s body.”
And they heard Hetle ask Prather’s panicked wife, “You want it too?”
At trial, Hetle told the jurors Prather had threatened him several times, including once when he had a knife, and that he believed Prather was armed with a small gun in his pocket when he showed up on his doorstep, and knocked loudly.
Prosecutors said while the level of violence in the shooting was shocking, “even more offensive is the callousness the defendant displayed after gunning Javon down.”
“After taking his final shot and threatening Janelle Prather, the defendant calmly strolled back into his home. He did not call the police. He did not seek aid. He simply left Javon in his driveway, like the weekly garbage, for someone else to clean up,” according to the sentencing memo.
The jury convicted Hetle of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of murder.
“Even now, in the presentence investigation, there is not a hint of remorse or an acknowledgment of Javon’s humanity,” wrote prosecutors. Prather had served as an infantryman for nearly four years with the Maryland National Guard.
Hetle was a former police officer in the Bellvue, Washington, police department in the early 2000s. He was involved in two fatal shootings, which were deemed justified. He was also reprimanded after an Ethiopian immigrant accused him of bias during a traffic stop.
Prosecutors have said “racial animus” played a role in the shooting, which Hetle’s attorneys dispute.