Man Charged in Death of Pokemon Go-Playing Grandfather Hires New Lawyer

Johnathan Cromwell, left, has been charged in the death of Jiansheng Chen, right.
Johnathan Cromwell, left, has been charged in the death of Jiansheng Chen, right.Chesapeake Sheriff's Office / Chen Family

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By Chris Fuchs

The Virginia security guard accused of fatally shooting a man who his family said was playing Pokemon Go the night he died appeared in court Monday with a new attorney — his third since being charged in February.

Johnathan Cromwell, who faces first-degree murder charges in the Jan. 26 fatal shooting of Jiansheng Chen, is now being defended by Andrew Sacks, who has also represented the security company that employs Cromwell.

“I think Mr. Cromwell and his family just wanted to get a fresh set of eyes and perhaps to explore some additional approaches to the case,” Sacks told NBC News. “They were highly satisfied with prior counsel that they had, the public defender.”

Johnathan Cromwell, left, has been charged in the death of Jiansheng Chen, right.Chesapeake Sheriff's Office / Chen Family

Sacks joined Cromwell at a hearing Monday after his second lawyer, the public defender, filed court papers earlier in July to introduce evidence about 60-year-old Chen, according to NBC affiliate WAVY.

Those documents allege that Chen tried to hit a man with his vehicle at a Virginia Beach marina in either August or September 2015, WAVY reported.

James Broccoletti, an attorney representing the Chen family, cast doubt on that claim.

“The filing of that motion was the first any of us heard of that,” Broccoletti told NBC News. “All of us doubt very seriously the veracity of that story.”

RELATED: Man Who Shot Pokemon Go-Playing Grandfather Parts Ways With Attorneys

Sacks has said Cromwell fired only in self-defense after Chen allegedly tried to run over the security guard.

Cromwell confronted Chen, a retiree and immigrant from China, after Chen drove his blue van into the driveway of the River Walk clubhouse parking area in Chesapeake, Virginia, prosecutors have said.

A Chen family attorney has said Chen went there to play Pokemon Go, a GPS-based virtual reality game, as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

Cromwell, 22, has been denied bond twice and remains behind bars. He parted ways with his first lawyer in April after communications between the two broke down.

A judge is expected to rule Sept. 29 on the motion to introduce evidence about Chen and a possible change of venue, according to WAVY.

The incident unfolded on the night of Jan. 26 when Cromwell, while on patrol, stopped his vehicle in front of Chen’s, according to a statement from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Chen then backed up and turned his van around to the entrance of the driveway, which faces River Walk Parkway, prosecutors said.

That, according to the commonwealth’s attorney statement, was when Chen was shot.

Cromwell, a security guard for Citywide Protection Services, exited his car and said “stop” before allegedly firing his weapon, according to authorities.

Following a bond hearing in February, WAVY reported that the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office for the City of Chesapeake told a judge that Cromwell allegedly fired seven shots, the first of which went through the driver’s side window.

Chen, who police have said was not armed, was hit four times in his upper left chest and once in his left upper arm, the commonwealth’s attorney has said. He died at the scene.

Chen’s command of English was "very, very limited," a family attorney has said. But Sacks, while representing the security company, has said he didn’t "have any information to indicate that the events in this case occurred because of a language barrier."

RELATED: Case Moves Forward Against Man Who Shot Pokemon Go-Playing Grandfather

Sacks has also said Chen had been served a written notice barring him from the clubhouse parking area after sunset. Security officers issued it because Chen had been at the location after hours, a violation of community rules, according to Sacks.

The homeowner’s association ended its contract with Citywide Protection Services shortly after Cromwell’s arrest.

Following the attorney switch, a judge granted Cromwell a six-month continuance from his original trial date of Sept. 26, WAVY reported.

Sacks said the trial is now expected to begin on March 8, 2018, and last five days.

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