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Murdered father’s beliefs keep killer son from death penalty

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — It may seem hard to believe, but the personal beliefs of a murdered father may have kept his son and killer off death row today.

The Brunswick County District Attorney’s Office says it’s one of the most unique cases it’s ever seen. John Heller pleaded guilty to second degree murder of his own father. He avoided the death penalty because his father, an attorney, was against it.

“We met with the family and decided to take that off the table, and after talking to the family we wanted to help go with their wishes, and their wishes were to be able to spend some time with him after he got out,” Assistant District Attorney Karen Richards said.

It was an emotional day in the courtroom for the Heller family. John Heller, 23, admitted shooting and killing his own father last year.

“The victim leaves behind his wife, a daughter, a grandchild, and we’ve also met with the brother of the victim,” Richards said.

Deputies arrested Heller in May 2011 after a cab driver called and said Heller did not pay his fare. They found Heller on the porch of his Winnabow home with a shotgun. A blood trail in the house led to his father Tom’s body and a message written in blood.

Prosecutors say the murder happened after the father and son had a fight inside the house.

“It seems like one of those things you would see on ‘Law & Order’ or ‘CSI,'” Richards said. “The way it played out it was a little sensational.”

John Heller faces at least 20 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty to robbery with a firearm, which added to his sentence.

We tried to talk to members of the Heller family at the courthouse today but they did not want to speak on camera.

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