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.”
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.”
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."
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.