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Jury recommends 30 years for security guard convicted in death of Pokemon Go-playing grandfather

The victim, a Chinese immigrant, had taken to the game as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

A Virginia jury on Monday recommended a 30-year prison sentence for a former security guard who in 2017 fatally shot a Chinese immigrant who was out playing Pokemon Go.

The recommended prison sentence comes after the jury convicted Johnathan Cromwell, 23, of second-degree murder on Friday. Sentencing is scheduled for June 24, according to Nancy G. Parr, the commonwealth’s attorney for the City of Chesapeake.

Cromwell, who was also found guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, killed 60-year-old Jiansheng Chen on the night of Jan. 26, 2017, while Chen was playing the GPS-based mobile game.

Image: Jiansheng Chen
Jiansheng ChenCourtesy of Chen Family

Andrew Sacks, Cromwell’s defense attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cromwell had been charged with first-degree murder and claimed self-defense, arguing that Chen allegedly drove his van at him. But prosecutors argued Cromwell purposely put himself in front of Chen’s vehicle, saying he was a security guard who wanted to use his power simply because he could, according to NBC-affiliate WAVY.

Calling the shooting “a malicious killing,” prosecutors said Cromwell, while on patrol, confronted Chen about a mile from his home, where he had parked in the driveway of a clubhouse in the River Walk neighborhood of Chesapeake, Virginia.

Chen was out playing the GPS-based mobile game Pokemon Go as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews and grandchildren, the Chen’s family attorney said. He added that Chen’s command of English was limited.

Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Lori Galbraith said in her opening statement that Cromwell knew of Chen, who lived in River Walk, and had “stalked” him in the past while he was playing Pokemon Go, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

On the night of the shooting, Cromwell, who was employed by Citywide Protection Services, had stopped one of Chen’s roommates, who was also out playing Pokemon Go, and escorted him home, Galbraith said, according to the newspaper.

Image: Johnathan Cromwell
Johnathan CromwellChesapeake Sheriff's Office

Sacks said Chen was cited for trespassing 10 days earlier in the same area where the shooting took place, according to WAVY. Cromwell’s defense argued Chen was trying to elude security because he knew there would be up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail, having already been cited.

In an interview played for jurors between Cromwell and detectives on the night of the shooting, the former security guard said he went to investigate after seeing a minivan drive up in the area of the clubhouse, WAVY reported.

Cromwell said Chen shook his head no when he tried talking to him, then put his van in reverse and drove right at him.

“I drew my firearm and was yelling ‘stop the car,' ‘stop the car,’” Cromwell told police, according to WAVY. “That’s when I started shooting and the first couple rounds went through the driver’s window.”

Sacks claimed Cromwell’s use of force was justified, arguing that Chen used his van as a weapon when he drove it at Cromwell, the station reported.

But prosecutors said they believed it was murder, saying that Cromwell fired first through the driver’s side window and then multiple times through the windshield, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Chen, who police said was unarmed, was shot four times in his upper left chest and once in his left upper arm, according to the commonwealth’s attorney. He died at the scene.

The Chen family has filed a $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court against Cromwell, Citywide Protection Services and the River Walk Community Association.

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