NASA Employee Who Allegedly Used Racial Slur Against Mixed-Race Neighbor Is Convicted of Murder 

A Virginia jury convicted Michael Hetle, 52, of first-degree murder in the death of his 24-year-old neighbor, Javon Prather

Michael Hetle, Javon Prather
Photo: Fairfax County Police Department; Facebook

A former NASA employee and police officer who allegedly used a racial slur against his mixed-race neighbor was found guilty of the man's murder.

Michael Hetle, 52, was accused of first-degree murder in the March 3, 2020, fatal shooting of 24-year-old Javon Prather, who was standing on Hetle's Springfield, Va., doorstep when the incident occurred.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano said Prather was "executed" by Hetle.

"Evidence submitted during the trial revealed that racial animus was a contributing factor in Mr. Hetle's actions," he said.

Prosecutors alleged that the shooting occurred after Hetle had become bitter over the homeowner's association and police's refusal to act on his complaints about Prather, who served in the Maryland National Guard, and his wife, which included loud music and drinking, The Washington Post reports.

Hetle's attorney, George L. Freeman IV, said Hetle believed that Prather was armed when he showed up on his doorstep and shot him in self-defense.

"Mr. Hetle did not commit a murder," Freeman said, the Post reports. "He was defending himself and his family."

Freeman could not be reached for comment.

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The shooting of Prather was caught on a Ring doorbell camera and showed Prather walking over to Hetle's doorstep before the door opens and gunfire erupts. Prather tumbles down the stairs and is shot again as he lay in the driveway, WTTG reports.

Hetle can be seen pointing a gun at Prather's wife, saying: "You want it too."

She is later seen dragging Prather away.

During the trial, Hetle's son testified that Hetle used a racial epithet when he spoke about Prather, the Post reports.

"Mr. Prather served in the Maryland National Guard and had a bright future ahead of him," Descano said after the verdict. "While this outcome will not return him to his loved ones, my heart and thoughts are with the Prathers, and I hope this conviction brings them some small measure of peace."

Hetle is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 28.

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