PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Johnny Rodriguez, the man accused of killing his neighbor in the doorway of his home while both of their children were playing inside, was convicted of first-degree murder in Portsmouth Circuit Court Wednesday.
The incident took place in the early hours of Feb 19, 2022.
Rodriguez, the defendant in the case, had gone out drinking with his girlfriend and the girlfriend of the victim, Lawrence Cowfer.
Cowfer had stayed home to watch the group’s children. When Rodriguez returned to the duplex they both shared, he encountered a sofa pushed in front of his door.
Video presented in court showed Rodriguez knocking on the front door and yelling to open up.
“Was that really necessary?” he yelled when Cowfer answered.
After a brief, heated argument, Rodriguez shot Cowfer in the face a single time with a handgun, killing him. He then fled the scene.
The Commonwealth presented the doorbell camera footage of the incident as evidence, though it only showed Rodriguez in view.
His defense attorney, Nathan Chapman, had tried to block presentation of the video citing the lack of an expert witness who could authenticate it, but was unsuccessful.
A single Taurus revolver was found on the scene by police. It was ultimately determined to belong to Cowfer, who was found with an empty holster on his waistband, and the murder weapon was never recovered.
The defense never contested that Rodriguez pulled the trigger that night, but in closing arguments posited that he did so in self-defense because Rodriguez was pointing the revolver at him.
Two relatives of Cowfer’s who were minors took the stand on the first day of the trial. They described hearing the argument from inside the house — and then the horror and confusion that followed.
“Johnny came in… they were arguing… and then Johnny got mad and shot dad,” one told the court.
“I [saw] my dad falling to the floor, and then Mr. Rodriguez running away,” another testified.
There were at least six children inside the house at the time.
The jury also found Rodriguez guilty of two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and use of a firearm in commission of a murder.
Outside the courthouse, Chapman said that his client reacted quietly when the verdict was read, apparently taking in the full gravity of the situation.
“We were especially surprised by some of the court’s rulings on the evidence, so those evidentiary rulings, we’ll be prepared to appeal in the future,” he said after the trial. “Those rulings created a situation where we were surprised by the verdict of the jury.”
Rodriguez faces up to life in prison. A sentencing hearing was set for Jan. 5.
Chapman said it was too early to decide if they’re going to appeal.