When criminals targeted the home of a wealthy Centreville man, two years ago, their motive was money — they planned to rob him and leave. Murder wasn’t on the horizon.
But when the homeowner’s handyman, Jose Cardona, tried to stop them, he paid with his life. He was shot and killed; and last Friday in federal court, one of the intruders, Reynard Prather, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in connection with Cardona’s death.
“The tragedy of this crime can’t be overstated,” said U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Trenga. “The victim was born in Guatemala and came into the United States legally. He’d worked two years for the homeowner, was married and sent money home to his family in Guatemala. And while one can’t say Mr. Prather intended the death of Mr. Cardona, it was the predictable outcome of his actions.”
Cardona, 39, was a father of two who lived in Manassas Park and worked as a handyman and gardener. His employer owned several check-cashing stores in Northern Virginia.
According to the statement of facts filed Feb. 22 with Prather’s plea agreement, Prather conspired with two unnamed people to rob the homeowner at gunpoint at his 9,000-square-foot mansion on Compton Road, where they believed cash from the stores was kept. For his participation, Prather, 23, of Oxon Hill, Md., was to have received $50,000 from the heist.
But on the morning of May 17, 2010, things went very wrong.
Prather and a co-conspirator drove from Prince George’s County, Md., to a shopping center in Virginia. During the drive, authorities say, that person enlisted Prather’s help in the plan to rob the homeowner.
He also “gave Prather a duffel bag containing a loaded, semiautomatic pistol,” the document states. “Prather knew that [co-conspirator] also was armed with a semiautomatic pistol.” A third co-conspirator then picked them both up at the shopping center and dropped them off in the vicinity of their target’s residence.
“The tragedy of this crime can’t be overstated.”
— Anthony J. Trenga, U.S. District Court judge
The two, armed men then walked to the Centreville house and saw the homeowner leave. He left one of the garage doors open, so the intruders entered the garage to wait for him to return. According to the court document, the co-conspirator allegedly told Prather “his role in the robbery was to restrain [the homeowner’s] sons upstairs in the residence, and he would take care of [the homeowner] upon his return.”
But around 10 a.m., before the homeowner got back, the intruders were discovered by Cardona and one of the sons.
“The four paired off in a struggle: Prather and the son and [the other man] and Cardona,” the document states. “While so involved, Prather heard a shot fired and saw Cardona lying dead on the driveway in front of the garage.” Within minutes, he and the other man fled on foot through a wooded area next to the home.
According to the document, an autopsy on Cardona’s body revealed that a 9-mm bullet “passed through his left hand and entered through his left eye into his brain. A magazine containing seven live rounds of .45-caliber ammunition was found on the driveway near where Cardona was shot.”
In an Oct. 18, 2011 affidavit, Fairfax County police homicide Det. Stephen Needels, wrote that, according to the homeowner’s son, “At one point, Cardona gained possession of the handgun carried by the man he was struggling with. Moments later, however, he was fatally shot by one of the two intruders.”
PRATHER WAS ARRESTED Oct. 25, 2011 and has been in custody since then. On Feb. 22, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and using a firearm in the commission of that crime.
He returned last Friday, June 1, for sentencing, while his friends and relatives watched tearfully. Earlier, they had submitted letters on his behalf to Judge Trenga. Prather — who’s married and has a 3-year-old child — had done likewise, so he didn’t speak in court before learning his punishment.
Trenga reiterated the facts of the case and noted Prather’s past convictions. “The defendant has a significant, criminal history,” said the judge. “In 2009, he was convicted of carrying a handgun and served nine months in prison. He was on probation from that offense when he committed this one.”
Trenga then sentenced Prather to 20 years in prison for the robbery offense. The firearm charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years behind bars, and the judge imposed that sentence, as well, running both consecutively, for a total of 30 years. He also placed Prather on three years supervised release after his time has been served.
Meanwhile, police would still like to arrest the other suspects involved in this case. They believe the men fled the murder scene in a white pickup truck, but none of their other leads have panned out. So they’re asking anyone with any information to contact Crime solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS/8477, e-mail www.fairfaxcrimesolvers.org, text “TIP187” plus a message to CRIMES/274637 or call police at 703-691-2131.